Books: The Boy Book: A Study of Habits and Behaviors, Plus Techniques for Taming Them and The Treasure Map of Boys: Noel, Jackson, Finn, Hutch, Gideon--and me, Ruby Oliver
Author: E. Lockhart
Pages: 224 / 256
Age Range: 12 and up
Background: I loved E. Lockhart's first Ruby Oliver book (review here), The Boyfriend List. I bought the second one, The Boy Book awhile back, but found the title of the first chapter a bit offputting, and never started it. Then last week the third book, The Treasure Map of Boys, showed up in my mailbox. I'd been seeing good reviews of that one around, so this weekend I had a little Ruby Oliver mini-marathon. And I was glad that I had waited to read Book 2, because it was lovely to go straight on to Book 3, and simply immerse myself in Ruby Oliver's universe. I'm reviewing the two books together because I read them that way, and they feel like parts of a whole.
Review: The Boy Book begins at the start of Ruby Oliver's junior year at the small, progressive Tate Prep. Things are looking up a bit for Ruby, after the events of her horrific spring sophomore semester (see The Boyfriend List). She has a couple of friends who have stood by her, despite her general social leprosy, and she's even beginning to patch things up with her friend Nora. Kim, Ruby's former best friend and current nemesis, is spending the fall semester abroad, giving Ruby a bit of breathing room. Ruby also gets a new job at a local zoo, which she loves, and has a driver's license. Pretty quickly, however, Ruby finds herself back in a state of confusion regarding boys. There's her friend and lab partner, Noel, with whom she has an easy banter, and maybe more. There's also family friend Angelo, with whom she has an incident or two. And then Jackson, Ruby's former boyfriend (and Kim's current boyfriend), begins to pay attention to her again. Ruby finds herself struggling to understand what boys want, and trying to balance her own needs against the needs of her few, and thus precious, friends.
The Boy Book made me cringe at times, watching Ruby make mistakes. But it also made me laugh, nod my head, and smile sympathetically. The Boy Book, in which Ruby and her friends have recorded their observations about boys, is hilarious. [It's also utterly authentic, reminding me of something that my best friend and I wrote up in early college called The Challenge Theory: Or, Why Nice Guys Finish Last.] Here's a snippet:
"We know what you are thinking. It is not girls who need lessons in how to talk on the telephone.
We are experts at it.
Some of us could even medal in it.
The problem is the boys. And they need to shape up.
True, true, true.
The boys are not going to shape up. They are not going to read magazines or informational textbooks such as this one that tell them how to talk to girls on the telephone. And they are not going to magically figure out how to converse either. It is a demonstrated fact that even bona fide boyfriends such as Finn and Jackson and Kaleb are hit with paralyzing stupidity and boringness on the telephone, and you, my girlfriends, you are the only ones who can do anything about it." (Page 91-92, The Boy Book)
See what I mean? Funny and true. I was also regularly entertained by Ruby's footnotes, like:
"A homework assignment from Doctor Z, which she shrinkily calls a list of affirmations, but which I prefer to term Nancy Drews, because Nancy Drew, girl detective, was good at everything, even horseback riding and water ballet, though there was no evidence she had ever practiced or even heard of either one until she miraculously turned out to be expert at them." (Page 185, The Boy Book)
But really, these books are all about the characters. Even as Ruby makes mistakes, you can't help but love her. She is completely three-dimensional, from her vintage clothes to her tendency to blurt things out that she shouldn't to her occasional panic attacks. I also found that I could picture Noel, and I completely understood his place in the high school social structure. (And, ok, I adore him as a character.)
"Noel looks at the Tate Universe as if he finds it all mildly amusing and sometimes a bit sickening, but he's willing to participate for purposes of research so that he can bring back interesting tidbits of information to the ironic, punk rock planet where he really lives.
People like him for this quality. They invite him to parties. He can sit at anyone's table. But he never really seems committed, if you know what I mean." (Page 7, paperback edition of The Boy Book)
Ruby's friend Meghan is also a surprisingly sympathetic character. She's one of those girls who wraps everything up in her boyfriend, but she's also oblivious to other people's judgement. As The Boy Book begins, Meghan is suffering the recent loss of her boyfriend, Bick, now at college 3000 miles away. I won't give any spoilers about Meghan, but just say that I was pleased with both her character development, and the way her central personality remained intact, throughout these two books.
Although The Boy Book ends on a reasonably good mental health state for Ruby, I was glad that I had The Treasure Map of Boys to pick up immediately. Treasure Map picks up at the start of the winter semester of Ruby's junior year, and finds her struggling to maintain a sacrifice, in the romance department, for the sake of her friendship with Nora. Ruby also loses her beloved zoo job, defending the rights of a pygmy goat against a drunken, careless patron, and finds herself in charge of the school bake sale. But mostly, she tries to figure out what she wants from the various boys floating around in her world, especially Noel, Jackson, Finn, Hutch, and Gideon, all of whom exist somewhere on the continuum between friend and boyfriend.
I really liked The Treasure Map of Boys. I found it less cringe-inducing than the previous two books (which I note, even though I enjoyed them). It's like Ruby is a kid sister, and I'm happy to see her starting to figure out what she wants out of life. Oh, she still makes some mistakes, and damages both her reputation and her friendships. But she's on a better track. She's growing up, little, realistic bits at a time. There's a great kissing scene, and a great scene in which a friend who is a boy calls upon Ruby to just be his friend. I thought that the book ended at a good place, although I'm happy to know from E. Lockhart's blog that at least one more Ruby Oliver book is in the works.
I highly recommend the entire Ruby Oliver series to teenage girls. There are quite a few references to making out and breasts ("upper-regioning") and sexual interest, though no actual sex takes place. There is a candor to the discussions that I think girls will appreciate (though I wouldn't bother recommending these books to boys), balanced against a youthful optimism. The three books together are like a romantic comedy in book form (this analogy helped along by Roo's frequent mentions of movies), complete with wacky physical comedy, errors in judgement, and misunderstandings. They are great fun! I very much look forward to seeing what happens with Ruby in Book 4.
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 26, 2006 and July 28, 2009
Source of Book: Bought Book 2, received review copy of Book 3
Other Blog Reviews: Eva's Book Addiction, A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, Reading to Myself, Mrs. Magoo Reads, A True Reality
Author Interviews: Writer Musings, Cynsations
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.