This weekend I listened to E. Lockhart's The Boyfriend List (15 Guys, 11 Shrink Appointments, 4 Ceramic Frogs and Me, Ruby Oliver) on MP3. The Boyfriend List is the story of several months in the life of high school sophomore Ruby Oliver. They are angst-filled months, featuring a harsh dumping of Ruby by her first-ever boyfriend, and subsequent social mis-steps on her part that caused her to:
- Lose her close friends;
- Become a social leper;
- Be widely considered a slut in her small pond of a Seattle prep school; and
- Start having panic attacks
The panic attacks result in Ruby (aka "Roo") being sent to see a shrink, Dr. Z. The story is told in bits and pieces, moving backwards and forwards in time, as Ruby examines what happened, and why. The Boyfriend List of the title (also used for chapter titles), refers to a list that Dr. Z. asks Roo to prepare of all of the boys that she's ever had any kind of romantic interaction with (dates, crushes, gifts left in lockers, etc.). Of course the mere existence of the list leads to problems, too, but you'll have to read the book for the details.
The audio version works quite well for this story. The text was apparently edited slightly, because Ruby occasionally will refer to "this story that you're listening to", instead of what I presume is "this story that you're reading" in the printed version. It feels like a long phone conversation with a new best friend, in which she tells a story filled with classic high-school drama. The narrator (Mandy Siegfried) sounds youthful, without being annoyingly girlish.
Ruby is a fully 3-dimensional character. She loves her slightly eccentric parents. She is, without much comment, a vegetarian. She buys clothes from vintage shops. She's insecure, and she makes foolish mistakes. She moons around after boys, on the slightest provocation, but is happiest hanging out with her girlfriends. She talks too much when she's nervous. She likes narrow-ruled notebooks. She feels real.
And the story feels real, too. I was humiliated for Ruby at her low points, and wondered how she could face school in the morning. But I also nodded my head, and laughed with her at some of her insights. There's a description in which she likens kissing a boy she doesn't find attractive (as part of a spin-the-bottle/7-minutes-in-heaven game) to going to the dentist. It's hilarious. There are many references to body parts and sex, though nothing too advanced actually happens with Ruby. She's refreshingly open and curious, with an entertaining voice.
Of all the books I've read, this one most made me reminisce about my own junior high and high school experiences. It's not that my experiences were the same as Ruby's, but E. Lockhart has so exactly captured what it's like to be a girl of that age—uncertain about what boys are thinking, having disagreements with friends over trust, and thinking about relative levels of popularity. The details are dead on. I particularly worried over Ruby's friend Meghan, a sophomore girl with a senior boyfriend and few friends in her own class. I wanted to reach into the book and warn her about the difficulties facing her during junior year, after her boyfriend graduates. (I haven't read the sequel yet, so don't tell me.)
One other nice thing about the book is that talking with Dr. Z. does help Roo to identify some negative behavior patterns in herself, and to start taking tiny steps towards resolution. There's no big drama over this—just small, incremental insights and improvements. The book touches on issues related to self-esteem, body image, forgiveness, and treating friends with respect, but it touches on them very lightly.
In summary, The Boyfriend List is an entertaining read, with strong characterization (at least of Ruby, the others are necessarily more remote to the reader). I think that many teen girls will find Ruby's experiences believable and, perhaps, reassuring (if Ruby could survive her humiliations, surely readers can endure the emotional traumas that high school dishes out on a regular basis). I think that adult readers who were once teenage girls will enjoy it, too, as a bit of a trip down memory lane (though with modern details). I highly recommend The Boyfriend List, and I can't wait to get my hands on the sequel, The Boy Book.
Book: The Boyfriend List (15 Guys, 11 Shrink Appointments, 4 Ceramic Frogs and Me, Ruby Oliver)
Author: E. Lockhart
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Original Publication Date: March 2005
Pages: 240 (though I listened on MP3)
Age Range: 14 and up
Source of Book: Audible.com
Other Blog Reviews: MotherReader, Trashionista, Sara's Hold Shelf, Adellis, Tea Cozy (one of Liz's best books of 2005), Bookshelves of Doom
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.