Book Review: “The Manifesto on How to be Interesting’ by Holly Bourne

TRIGGER WARNING: Whilst I’m not going to dwell on it in this review, this book features self-harm, which, though well-handled and not graphic, some readers may find distressing.

22533460 (1)The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting. Holly Bourne. Usbourne Publishing. August 2014.

Bree is a loser, a wannabe author who hides behind words. But when she’s told she needs to start living a life worth writing about, The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting is born. Six steps on how to be interesting. Six steps that will see her infiltrate the popular set, fall in love with someone forbidden and make the biggest mistake of her life.

I picked up The Manifesto on How to be Interesting purely because I absolutely adored Am I Normal Yet? by the same author. I strongly connected with all of the characters in AINY (I mean, my reaction every time any of them spoke was basically: *mini fist pump* YESSS! THIS! PREACH ITTTT! *2nd mini fist pump*) I was really hoping I’d love this set of characters just as much, however, sadly that wasn’t the case. Although the way I felt about the characters didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book (it’s well-written with a page-turner of a plot), I think it stopped me from being as wowed as I was by Am I Normal Yet?.

The story follows 16-year-old Bree, a mixed up teenage outsider who is lonely, bored and fed up with her life; she desperately wants to be a writer, but her manuscripts keep getting rejected by publishers; she has a strained relationship with her parents, particularly her Dad who’s practically married to his job, and doesn’t even pay her enough attention to know she’s a vegetarian; she only has one friend, Holdo (not his real name, but an homage to Holden from The Catcher in the Rye) and outside of this friendship she’s basically invisible – the only time she isn’t being ignored by the popular crowd is when she’s being ridiculed by them for the way she dresses. She’s also hopelessly in love with her English teacher, Mr Fellows, who she tried to kiss at her end-of-year dance (but who’s now denying it ever happened).

One day, after receiving another disheartening publisher rejection letter, Bree confides in said English teacher, who advises her that perhaps her novels keep getting rejected because they’re too *miserable* (her latest being a particularly epic tale of woe) and in the words of Mr Fellows himself:

“No offence, but nobody wants to read an 110,000-word novel about a girl throwing herself off the end of a pier.”

Bree claims that she ‘writes what she knows’, but Mr Fellows suggests that in order to write books people will want to read, Bree should come out of her shell, and start living a life worth writing about. Impressionable Bree takes this advice a little too literally, and comes up with a plan: infiltrate the popular crowd, and document her journey from being a nobody to becoming a somebody worth reading about, writing about this journey on an anonymous blog she names ‘The Manifesto on How to be Interesting’.

After re-inventing herself image-wise, Bree befriends the most popular girl in school, Jassmine Dallington, and wangles an invitation to hang out with the elite circle. Bree disagrees with everything these girls stand for, but firmly believes that the way to become interesting is to become more like them. The next step in her plan is to seduce Hugo, the most popular boy in school (who also happens to be Jassmine’s boyfriend).

I liked the concept of this novel, and thought it was an interesting take on the ‘Mean Girls’ trope, however as I mentioned at the beginning, I disliked most of the characters. Jassmine’s group are typical nasty girls – they bully other people, they post mean comments about girls in their class online (Burn Book stylee), but everyone is interested in their lives and wants to be friends with them. Hugo is similarly vile (he’s a misogynistic douchebag who cheats on his girlfriend repeatedly and crudely brags about the girls he cheats with to his laddish friends), yet everybody seems to fancy him (including Bree!) I found Bree’s interest in Hugo hard to stomach because he has SUCH an unattractive personality (which even Bree herself realises!) Then of course, we have Mr Fellows, a man in a position of authority who’s suddenly a lot more interested in vulnerable Bree now she’s the most popular girl in school (I don’t think I have to explain why this makes him a shady character!)

Unfortunately I wasn’t a big fan of Bree herself either. To begin with, I empathised with her (as feeling like you don’t fit in is something everyone can relate to at some point in their lives), however as soon as Bree began her ‘Manifesto on How to be Interesting’ project, I quickly lost sympathy for her. I found her behaviour extremely selfish and immature (she essentially ditches her only friend to pursue a fake friendship with people she is only using for writing material!) and I found myself constantly wanting to slap some sense into her. Although Jassmine and her group are mean girls, as Bree gets to know them, she realises they are real people, with emotions and insecurities just like everyone else, yet this doesn’t seem to stop her from exposing personal information about them on her blog, and eventually betraying Jassmine by sleeping with her boyfriend (who she doesn’t even really like beyond the fact that he’s good-looking).

I think I would have had more respect for Bree if I felt she’d learnt something from her mistakes, but despite suffering from the consequences of her actions, I finished the book with the impression that Bree still felt her project had been worthwhile and the right thing to do (despite all the people she’d hurt in the process), because her writing had reached (and therefore helped) other lonely people who consider themselves ‘uninteresting’. I appreciate that sentiment, but the way Bree manipulated and used people for that end result just didn’t sit comfortably with me.

I don’t want to dwell too much on the negative, because I did enjoy this book, and I became very invested in the story. I found Bree interesting, even if I didn’t like her, and I was never bored whilst reading this novel, because I was always fascinated to see what she would do next (even when I was silently begging her NOT to do anything else to mess up an already ridiculously messy situation!)

I love Holly Bourne’s writing style, and I will certainly be reading more of her books in future. Whilst I didn’t love Bree as much as I loved Evie, the protagonist of Am I Normal Yet?, I am still glad that I read her story, and I’d certainly recommend this book if you’re looking for an interesting character-driven contemporary read.

12 thoughts on “Book Review: “The Manifesto on How to be Interesting’ by Holly Bourne”

  1. I have a feeling that I would personally kill Bree, haha! I totally understand your feelings toward her, I felt the same reading a book called Misunderstood. I enjoyed myself, but I had issues with the main characters and a lot of complains, so it looked like I didn’t like it at all, haha!

    1. Exactly, she was a very frustrating character!! That’s what I felt like when I started writing my review, I was thinking “people are going to think I hated this book” when I didn’t at all, I just hated the character hahaa! What was Misunderstood about?

      1. Yeah, it’s so not that! Haha! Misunderstood is a gossip girl styled novela about this girl called Enya Uzton, a richer Regina George of Los Angeles. She’s the queen of her high school and her friends are like royalty and all. I’ll leave here my synopsis of the story:

        “Enya is the epitome of the queen teen stereotype: she is gorgeous, rich, breathes perfection, has tons of friends, the perfect closet, a beautiful boy that would do anything for her. Everybody wants to be Enya Utzon. Or almost everybody.
        Despite loving her life, Enya yearns for true love – not camaraderie. She wants a consuming and burning love and James seems the perfect boy for her: popular and beautiful just like her, he had that serious way of making stupid jokes that broke Enya with laughter and gave her butterflies in her stomach. The thing is, James just want to be friends.
        Enya feels her perfect world shattering when, besides being refused by the boy she loved, Enya is forced to deal with an old enemy that is threatening to bring her shameful past to light. Would people still admire and envy Enya Uzton knowing what she did?”

      2. I think the main character would irritate me, although it does actually sound like an interesting story! Also I’m intrigued by the comparison to Gossip Girl, because I love the show!!

      3. Enya is a bother, it’s true, haha! But the plot was interesting, because the reader keeps second guessing everyone’s intentions, you know?? I think you may like it even with the annoying main character 💙

    1. Thanks! I had quite mixed feelings about it – it was an entertaining read, but I was so frustrated by the main character. That being said, it was well-written, and the main character was interesting even if I didn’t always like her. I’d say it’s definitely worth a shot, but if you’re not too sure about it, I’d recommend maybe get it from the library instead of buying 🙂

    1. Glad somebody understands! It was such a difficult book to review, because although I hated the main character, I still really enjoyed the book – it was so hard to convey that without sounding negative haha!

      1. I hated her, but it was really hard to read cos of all of the bad things that happened. It made me cringe and shiver. X

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