Harriet Manners knows a lot of things. She knows that a cat has 32 muscles in each ear, a "jiffy" lasts 1/100th of a second, and the average person laughs 15 times per day. What she isn't quite so sure about is why nobody at school seems to like her very much. So when she's spotted by a top model agent, Harriet grabs the chance to reinvent herself. Even if it means stealing her Best Friend's dream, incurring the wrath of her arch enemy Alexa, and repeatedly humiliating herself in front of the impossibly handsome supermodel Nick. Even if it means lying to the people she loves.
As Harriet veers from one couture disaster to the next with the help of her overly enthusiastic father and her uber-geeky stalker, Toby, she begins to realise that the world of fashion doesn't seem to like her any more than the real world did.
And as her old life starts to fall apart, the question is: will Harriet be able to transform herself before she ruins everything? (Synopsis from Goodreads)
I can’t remember the last time I laughed out loud so much while reading a book. The kind of nostalgic ‘I have been that person’ laugh. Only, I think I was more like the person you get when Harriet and Nat meet in the middle. A general appreciation for clothes and glitter and pretty things but accompanied by a slight bemusement with fashion and a whole heap of geekiness on top. Yep, that was me.
This book is fun. Really fun. It’s light-hearted and easy to read, but it also has some deeper messages too. Harriet is a wonderful main character, quite clueless in a lot of ways, but not frustratingly so, and although she is very clever about geeky things, this never feels forced. For example, when she tells the reader various facts, compiles lists or makes equations, it always seems to complement whatever is happening in the story at that point, or it serves to tell us more about Harriet’s character, rather than feeling stuck in for the sake of it. The geekiness to girliness ratio is also just right. I think Harriet is a character everyone can love.
I absolutely loved Holly Smale’s writing. This book has so many well-observed details about people and life, and small moments that are described perfectly. For example, when Harriet tells her dad that she’s been spotted by a model agency, his delight is compared to the shining of a million smug fairies. This just sums up parental pride (confirmation that their child is The Best Child) so beautifully. When something happens that puts a strain on best friends Harriet and Nat’s relationship, a rather tactless boy compares the tension between them to the Cold War. He observes that Harriet is like America, trying to act as loudly as possible in the hope that it will all just go away, whereas Nat is Russia, cold and quiet and frosty.
Those are just two examples of the wonderful way in which everyday moments are captured. You know the writing in a book is good if you keep getting the urge to quote bits at whoever happens to be around you (don’t read this book at the doctor’s surgery – a room full of sick people doesn’t appreciate constant giggling).
The story itself is thoroughly enjoyable, and I was hooked. I read this book extremely quickly because I simply couldn’t stop. Harriet and Nat attend the Clothes Show in Birmingham (been there several times on school trips, and the descriptions/atmosphere were spot on), and Harriet is spotted by a modelling agency. From there, the plot races quickly through Harriet’s first modelling experience and her desperate attempts to control all the tumbling pieces of her life. From the moment her picture is taken at the Clothes Show, it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen, and at each stage the story is fairly predictable. However, I didn’t mind this at all, as it’s the way the story is told that makes it so good – with little unexpected moments (hiding under the table and meeting Nick - and I love Nick!), humour, and a knowing twinkle.
This book also had a great bunch of supporting characters and they were all written as well as Harriet, which can be rare in novels told in first-person. Annabel, Harriet’s dad and Wilbur were all wonderful, and each had a very distinct voice. Nick was the perfect accompaniment to Harriet, and very funny, and Toby cracked me up many times (while also really creeping me out). I loved Nat, and I was so pleased with the way she was written. This was one way in which the story absolutely did not do what I expected, and I was really grateful for that. Nat was a very believable character – of course she was upset about her dream being so rudely snatched away, seeing her best friend stumble into what Nat had always wanted, but at the same time she was truly supportive. Nat is the kind of friend we all want, and I liked that Harriet’s big mistake was not trusting her enough.
And finally, the book ends on exactly the right note. Harriet has come to understand that accepting who she is, and just being herself, is the most important thing. She sees that fashion and modelling were never the cause of her problems – the problem was her attitude. But this isn’t a ‘Geeks are great and girly stuff sucks’ message. It’s ‘like what you like and don’t let others tell you that you can’t’ message. Be geeky and girly if that’s who you are.
This is a great book – funny, well-written and observant, and with a lot of heart and some wonderful moments. And I now have the urge to refer to my other half as ‘my little pot of bean paste’, just once, to see his reaction!
Thank you to HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.