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.
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.