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Death Before DNF?  I Choose Death

Forever Young Adult presents: a review of Modelland by Tyra Banks

Death Before DNF?  I Choose Death

(Here at FYA Headquarters, we try to read and review every book we receive from publishers and every book we purchase or check out from the library. But sometimes we just can't finish a book. Usually we just decide not to review it, but sometimes we feel the need to explain why we couldn't finish. Therefore, we proudly present the DNF (Did Not Finish) Book Report!)

DNF BOOK REPORT for Modelland by Tyra Banks (ish)

When We Broke Up: Chapter 16
I Should Have Listened To: Barry Goldblatt
How Purple Is Your Prose: The Most Volatile Violaceous
Anti-Bonus Factors: The Fact That I Think Tyra May Have Actually Written This Herself
Bonus Factor: The Most High-Budget Book Trailer Evs
Restraining Order Status: Therapist-Ordered

Let's Judge A Book By Its Cover:

This book cover is actually kind of . . . nice. Well, perhaps nice is not the correct word to use, but it's not offensively ugly and is actually sort of vaguely pleasing. Much like many of the models featured on America's Next Top Model!

UNFORTCH, it in no way hints to the madness contained within. Obviously the entire book cover should have been replaced with screaming large font reading, "THIS IS A BOOK WRITTEN BY TYRA BANKS! ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO PROCEED? REALLY? ARE YOU REALLY SURE? MAYBE YOU WANT TO HAVE A NAP INSTEAD? DO THAT." That type of book cover would have been so much more helpful.

The Deal (As I Know It):

Modelland is a mystical, mythical mountain hovering in the center of Metopia, shrouded by both fog and rumors. Each year it produces Intoxibellas-- the only truly famous people in the world -- and the seven greatest Intoxibellas form the 7Sevens, each having one of seven paranormal gifts. Every girl in the world is desperate to become an Intoxibella, as it is only that promise of fame which keeps most girls from living out their lives as factory drones, so every girl participates in the annual T-DOD (The Day of Discovery), in which girls from all over the world walk in hopes of being selected by a Scout and sent to Modelland to train as an Intoxibella.

Every girl except for Tookie de la Creme, that is, a gangly waif with mismatched eyes and personality disorder hair, who spends her days silently pining after Class President Theophilus and being shat upon by her parents (a one-eyed ex-circus performer father and a batshit crazy mother who insists that people call her "Creamy"), who spend their days kissing the ass of Tookie's younger sister, The Myrracle. But when Tookie gets chosen by a Scout on T-DOD, she must wonder why she and her new friends, an albino, a 4'7" spitfire and a fiercely real tomboy, are chosen to be sent to Modelland.

Hey, didn't that recap (almost) make sense? YEAH. That's because I spent A LOT OF TIME trying to decipher the crazy that is this book in order to cobble together a premise. Whoever was in charge of writing the jacket copy for this thing is probably now in a mental institution, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Nameless Publicity Person, I applaud your sacrifices!

Let me REALLY break things down for you, as far as I can understand them:

Tookie is a weirdo who spends most of her time laying in the hallways in school, hoping stupid Theophilus will notice her, and eating whipped cream by the gallon. Her only friend is a girl named Lizzie who may or may not live in a tree and may or may not be subjected to experiences by a shadowy group of people who may or may not be the overlords of Modelland. And Lizzie may or may not be evil; I didn't get that far.

Modelland is a fucking huge deal; it's like the insane taste-making, trend-setting version of what America's Next Top Model is during Tyra Banks' most feverish, delirious dreams. Every girl wants to get in, none more so than The Myrracle, who may actually be missing large parts of her grey matter. Like, she's SO STUPID, y'all. People have to constantly tell her to "dance in [her] spirit, not with [her] body" because she just breaks out into pas de bourre while trying to get a glass of milk or whatever. To be fair, I do that too, but then I never claimed to be smart.

To get into Modelland you have to walk on The Day of Discovery (seriously, just walk. Like, to the fire hydrant and back, or whatever. That is the criteria for selection) and hope that a Scout picks you. If, however, you happen to get a SMIZE before TDOD, your chances of being picked rise 91%. (Yes, it's that specific.)

What is a SMIZE? It stands for something I can't remember (not smiling with your eyes, which is what it actually means, and I can't believe I just called out a word created by Tyra Banks on a reality television show and then gave an accurate definition. Or even implied that it really had a definition.) and it's this sort of eyeshadow-y Mardi Gras-ish masque which can only be found in water. It sings, sort of like Howlers in Harry Potter yell. There are seven of them in the world, and people fight over them like Golden Tickets in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Tookie discovers a SMIZE in a tea kettle but her parents make her give it to The Myrracle, who still doesn't make it into Modelland, on account of how fucking dumb she is.

Then there's this rogue Intoxibella named Ci-L and she's a true 7Seven-7, which means she possesses all seven paranormal gifts (one of these paranormal gifts is "convincing people to buy things," and this may have been the only genuine chuckle I got from this book. Well played, Tyra; though I doubt you and I are approaching this gift from the same level of understanding). She is the most famous Intoxibella in the world, but she's being punished by Modelland for going rogue and doing things like performing beat poetry during interviews. Fair enough; I'd punish my spokesperson for doing something that asinine as well.

At Modelland, there is a lot of Harry Potters-esque shizz going on, including a statue of Anna Wintour (ish) who sings about the fate of the students. Sort of like a Sorting Hat, but made by Gucci.

And that's about all I managed to figure out from the first fourteen chapters. Presumably the book segues into a stunning and expertly-crafted narrative about our obsession with fame and consumerism and is truly a contender for The Great American Novel, and I just didn't give it enough time to exorcise the batshit crazy exposition first. I'm sure it's my loss.

When We Broke Up: Chapter 16.

This is approximately a third of the way into the novel. It also represents at least 43 minutes of my own personal life (I had to do a LOT of rereading of those 16 chapters) which I will be demanding to be returned to me post haste. There was really so much more I could have been doing in those 43 minutes. Like trying on different pairs of socks.

I Should Have Listened To: Barry Goldblatt.

So, check it: While we were at BEA this year, we were lucky enough to be invited to an event hosted by Scholastic, at which Libba Bray, Meg Cabot and Maggie Stiefvater discussed their newest novels: Abandon, Beauty Queens and The Scorpio Races (respectively). What I remember most about this event are three things: 1) our dismay at learning that, because minors were in attendance, there was no alcohol offered; 2) Meg Cabot asking us whether we were planning to recap Teen Wolf (which we did on her suggestion!) and 3) the good-natured argument I got into with Mr Goldenblatt about Tyra Banks' Modelland.

If you haven't heard of Barry Goldenblatt, he is a big-time literary agent in NYC, as well as husband to the lovely Libba Bray, which means that he not only appreciates genius at work but lives with it at home. He can be, however, a little imposing; both because he's a Pretty Big Deal and also because he can actually pull off a black turtleneck, which is not a look that flatters most people. We happened to share an elevator during the event, and the subject of Modelland came up naturally, as in I naturally said, "The book I'm most looking forward to this year is Tyra Banks' Modelland, because that kind of batshittery needs to be captured forever on record." And he looked at me as if I had grown an extra head and told me, quite seriously, that OBVIOUSLY this book was going to be awful, and what was I thinking? I tried to explain to him that sometimes things are so bad that they're good, and that those rare combinations of camp and head-scratching insanity are just as fun to read as actually good books are. And he wasn't buying it. (Which is good, because as an agent, I presume he buys many manuscripts. It's nice that he is pickier than I am.) We argued back and forth on the topic -- me on the side of guilty pleasures and schaedenfreude, and him on the side of books in which the syntax and story don't make waterboarding look like a fun activity you do at the beachside torture camp. Even though he obviously knows his shit when it comes to books, I confess that I left the conversation shaking my head and thinking, "Man, some people just Don't Get It."

No. He was right. I should have listened to him. This book is awful.

How Purple Is Your Prose: The Most Volatile Violaceous

There was once an episode of The Outer Limits in which a rape victim used a time-travelling device to go back in time and kill her rapist before he ever raped anyone. And of course the theme of the episode was all about innocence vs guilt and whether it's okay to take an innocent life, even if you know that the person in question will go on to commit unspeakable acts, blah blah blah moralitycakes.

I don't want to go back in time to shoot Tyra Banks before she wrote this novel (I adore Tyra, truly. Also shooting people is bad.), but I WOULD like to go back in time and find the person who gave Tyra her first thesaurus. Or, for that matter, the person who wrote the first thesaurus. (Merriam? Webster?) And I'd like to kill that person. Because, seriously? The over-the-top descriptions and tongue-twisting synonyms shoved into every damn sentence of this novel made me want to MURDER SOMEONE.

Every single chapter is led by a fourth-wall-breaking narrative about Modelland or fashion or whathaveyou, and the word "dahling" is written so often that my left eye started to twitch anytime I read it, and the settings are described so elaborately and endlessly that even Charles Fucking Dickens would have read this book and been like, "Man, can't you edit that shit down? Too fucking wordy, lady." Faulkner would have read this book and thought, "Your sentences could really stand to be much shorter, my dear. Try only three or four paragraphs long." THAT IS HOW BAD THIS WRITING IS.

Here is an example:

Tookie's body tingled. She was holding a SMIZE in her hands. Her. A Forgetta-Girl.

The SMIZE was made up of ornate eye-shadow-like flourishes in strokes of taxicab-, Dijon-, baby-chick-, banana-, and lemonade-yellow. Thinner than a sheet of paper, it was suprisingly heavy, and seemed to hum ever so slightly as it rested in Tookie's hand.

And that's a good part.

Anti-Bonus Factor: The Fact That I Think Tyra May Have Actually Written This Herself

I'm not going to lie; when this book was announced, I was super excited!! Because, as previously established, I am an ardent lover of cheesy nonsense. My friend Courtney and I watch bad movies ON PURPOSE. I once paid full-price on a movie ticket to see that godawful Valentine's Day movie, for the sole purpose of making fun of it in my head. I really like bad things; they make me feel better about myself as a person.

But! I honestly and truly didn't expect for this book to be written by Tyra Banks. Like most celebrity books (except for Mindy Kaling and Carrie Fischer, and you can't convince me otherwise), I just assumed that Tyra would provide the overall concept for the book and that a kindly ghostwriter would actually put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard) and write the words on the page. Tyra would create characters and situations, but the ghost writer would make them (at least somewhat) readable. This is part of the reason why I want to be a ghostwriter myself --I have no imagination but I take direction well.

But, guys? I think Tyra probably wrote most, if not all, of this book. Obviously if you are in the publishing industry and happen to know the ghostwriter for this book, you can confirm or deny my suspicions, but I'm pretty sure that Tyra wrote down most of this book herself. I can't imagine any other reason why the book itself would be so incomprehensible, so poorly assembled, so over-the-top in its adjectives and adverbs.

The most likely scenario is that the ghostwriter (if there is one!) worked very hard to make an actual story out of the patented insanity that is Tyra's imagination and that Tyra, so used to browbeating Notable Fashion Photographer Nigel Barker, Mr and Ms Jay and (God have mercy on us all) the inimitable Andre Leon Talley, just scrapped the whole thing and wrote it herself.

Bonus Factor: The Most High-Budget Book Trailer Evs

Did you guys watch America's Next Top Model this week? (Yes, I am an avowed fan of ANTM and never miss it, even though I know that the winners never get work and it's all just a giant ego mobile for Tyra Banks. See above, in re: conversation with Barry Goldblatt. Also I adore Allison, obvs.)

If you didn't, allow me to summarize! The final four contestants on this cycle of America's Next Top Model (All Stars!) were directed by Tyra Banks in a "fashion editorial" based on her New York Times' Bestselling Novel, Modelland. (Mister Jay provided the part about the NYT Bestsellers List, so that Tyra could act bashful and humble. Tyra isn't a great actor.) A fashion editorial, as far as I can tell, is a movie in which people model instead of act. Whatever, Tyson Beckford was there, and he wasn't wearing a shirt.

This fashion editorial ended up being what is probably the craziest, most high-budget and also most delightful book trailer I've ever seen. Models! Running! Crazy Lisa clutching a baby doll and making sex faces with it! Angelea from the 716 crying because her crazy one-eyed ex-circus freak father is questioning his parentage. Also there's a toothbrush involved! Sweet Southern Laura, digging through the trash to find the Tooke button!! And Alison just being Alison, and therefore awesome!

All of the scenes that they shot on ANTM are lifted directly from the book, so if you want to get a good idea of just what Modelland is about, just watch this week's America's Next Top Model. It honestly did a better job of recapping the book than I ever could.

Casting Call:

Tyra Banks as Tookie

Gangly, five-headed person who is awkward and doens't fit in? It was either going to be Tyra or me.

Restraining Order Status: Therapist-Ordered

My imaginary therapist* and I often discuss my fear of disappointing people and how I over-exert myself in order to be everything to everyone. I find it difficult to refuse requests to anyone, so I always end up caving in and find myself, for instance, hosting training sessions via teleconference at 1 in the morning my time, just because it's convenient for people in offices across the globe, or spending several hundred dollars I can't afford because one of my friends is having a birthday extravaganza and I can't say no to them and their crazy requests. And it's bad, because obviously then I resent the people who made the request and I resent myself for agreeing, and then because I get so resentful, I feel guilty, which means that I become even more accommodating and then even more resentful and it's a vicious cycle that I've been spending several years trying to break.

And so it was with Modelland -- I read it because quite a few people asked me to do so. Hell, I didn't just read it, I PURCHASED it, mostly because the hold line at the library was insanely long for this book (which goes a long way towards explaining why I hate the area I live in).But I should have put my foot down at Chapter One, when I realized that this book didn't understand basic grammar rules. I should have really put my foot down during Chapter Two, when I scratched my head and had to reread several pages just to understand what was going on. I really really should have put my foot down by Chapter Five, when I realized that there was no redeemable value to this book whatsoever.

But I didn't back down until my fictional therapist** ordered me to do so. "Erin," she said. "Despite your sailor's mouth and penchant for making fun of things on the internet, you aren't a bad person. Stop punishing yourself by continuing to be in a relationship with this useless book, which offers you nothing of worth or comfort. Be free!" I still didn't listen to her, though, as I was convinced that I could make something out of my time with this book. That's when my fictional therapist*** laid down the law and told me I HAD to stay away from this book, for the sake of my own sanity. "Life is short," she said. "Don't waste it reading crap. I order you to put this book away and never seek contact with it again." And I haven't. And you know what? I feel so much better now.

Until I pick up 50 Cent's book . . .

*I don't have a fictional therapist, obviously. If I did, I'd need a real therapist.

** Seriously! I promise I'm not hearing voices in my head!

*** Please don't lock me away like poor Tami Taylor on American Horror Story! I'll be good!

Erin Callahan's photo About the Author: Erin is loud, foul-mouthed, an unrepentant lover of trashy movies and believes that champagne should be an every day drink. When she isn't drowning in a sea of engineers for whom Dilbert is still uproariously funny, she's writing about books, tv, the cult of VC Andrews and more.
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