About the Book

Title: The Magnolia League (Magnolia League #1)
Published: 2011

Cover Story: We Were So Close!
BFF Charm: Aw, HELL No.
Swoonworthy Scale: 0.5
Talky Talk: Freaky Friday
Bonus Factors: Food Descriptions, Evil Grandmothers
Anti-Bonus Factors: People Who Don’t Understand How Racism Works, The Vampire Diaries/Skeleton Key School of African-American Characters, Goddamn Dirty Hippies
Relationship Status: That Awkward and Boring First Date That You Later Googled and Found Out They Were a Member of the Ku Klux Klan or Something

Cover Story: We Were So Close

And indeed we were! This cover would have been okay if they had just photoshopped that girl out of the picture, which shouldn’t be hard, since she’s already SO DAMN BLURRY. I get it, publishers. I do. I get where you’re going with it. But I see a blurry girl on the cover and all I can think about is that snapshot that Marty McFly carries around in his pocket and how his awful brother Dave and sister Linda slowly disappear, due to Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover having yet to bone, and then how Marty starts fading away before he rescues himself with a well-timed cover of Johnny B Goode.

And while Back to the Future is one of the greatest movies of all time, FACT, the only result that will come of reminding me of said movie is that I will compare the joy I feel in watching that movie to the lack of joy I feel in reading this book. And then I will be angry and wish that some jazz player were around to soothe my spirit with ganja.

The Deal:

Ugh. Okay. So Alex Lee was living a pretty laid-back, Fritos-filled life in her hippie commune in California, until her mother died and she had to go move in to her Grandmother’s house in Savannah, Georgia. Her grandmother, Miss Dorothy Lee, is freakishly youthful looking and rules the local Debutante society, The Magnolia League.

Wait. I know what you’re thinking. “Erin, didn’t you JUST review a book about a motherless teen sent to live at her grandmother’s house and forced to enter a debutante-like society?” Yes. Yes I did. I guess this sort of thing is popular right now? Motherless, reluctant debutantes are the new vampire, I guess.

Anyhooskies, Miss Lee wants Alex to join the debutante society, but Alex is just too good for that, man! She fights the man! She only wears vintage tshirts, from concerts she’s too damn young to have gone to! She talks a lot about Big Issues without actually doing anything to help anyone in either her local or global communities. And she cries and sweats a lot. As you can imagine, I sort of want to punch her in the face repeatedly.

Miss Lee instructs two of the other debutantes, Hayes* and Madison, to befriend Alex and let her know how fun being a deb can be, which they do. And it isn’t long before Alex starts to wonder how Hayes and Madison get to be so perfect, so skinny (ugh, more on this later), and have it all. Until they reveal their secret . . . .

Which, duh, is obviously hoodoo. I’m not even going to pretend like this will spoil the book for you. It won’t. You’ll be shouting “It’s maaaaaagic!” at Alex about four hundred times through the course of this book, because Alex is a Grade A Dummy who doesn’t get it.

Anyway, let’s pretend this book is good for a second so that I can do my usual book-selling patter: Will Alex succumb to the dark side? What’s up with the eternal youthfulness of Miss Lee and the other older members of The Magnolia League? And will Alex ever stop randomly crying in public places because things aren’t going her way?

*Hayes is a boy’s name, just FYI. I have two cousins called Hayes – One is Hayes the Elder and one is Hayes the Lesser. Hayes the Elder has a brother called Keyes. These are still not the strangest names in my family, by a fucking long shot.

BFF Charm: Aw, HELL, No

Hell No BFF Charm in Flames

Ladies and Brian, I don’t think there is a singular main character who I have hated more than Alexandra Lee. And that includes Elizabeth Wakefield, Holden Caulfield and every protagonist from a V.C. Andrews novel. THAT IS HOW MUCH I HATE ALEX LEE.

In fact, let me crib from Elizabeth Barrett Browning and count the ways:

  • You smoke pot. Don’t get me wrong! That’s what first led me to think you’d be totally cool! But then I found out that you were only smoking said pot to look cool for your awful boyfriend Reggie and, later, to piss off your grandmother. A) Gross. Don’t do drugs to impress people. Do drugs because you like them. (or don’t do drugs because you don’t like them!) It’s people like you who make DARE educators repeat such dumb platitudes as “Don’t be a sheep, be the shepherd!” and “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” and “Don’t say yes to peer pressure!” DARE instructors, I am here to tell you, there is probably a lot of peer pressure out there in the world, but it rarely manifests itself in someone offering someone else drugs. This is how those convos usually go:

Person A: Hey, buddy, want a hit?

Person B: Oh, no thank you!

Person A: Cool, more for me.

  • And B) grow the fuck up, little girl. Your grandmother is probably popping Oxycontin on the regular and totally still experiences acid flashbacks that make her mouth taste like pickles.

  • You’re a hippie. AND YOU HAVE DREADLOCKS. You have DREADLOCKS. No. I cannot abide. This is unacceptable.

  • You’re one of those people who shops at Goodwill cause, man, you’re so anti-establishment. And Goodwill sells things for cheap, man. They aren’t concerned with overpricing something silly like fashion. Goodwill is an establishment, you asshole. And the people donating those clothes are donating them so that people who are ACTUALLY POOR AND DON’T LIVE IN A MANSION can dress well for school and work. But sure, don’t worry about it! Continue to snap up all those vintage tees and leave the intended recipients faded soccer shirts from 1998. That is so awesome of you, man!

  • She complains constantly about being fat (and is told by others that she is fat), even though later in the book when she does the hoodoo to make herself skinny, it says she loses about 15-20 pounds and fits into size 0 jeans. So at the start of the book she’s, what? A size 6, AT MOST? THAT IS NOT FAT.

  • She is smugly superior to everyone she meets in Savannah, because she is soooo much better than them, even though they have jobs and are productive members of society and she grew up on a goddamn commune and couldn’t even figure out that her hippie boss was selling weed.

  • And the kicker! She accuses another character, who is Black, of being RACIST because said character is MEAN to Alex. Racist. I will get into this later but this seriously is my number one pet peeve of uppity white people and I just was fucking done with her at this moment. That, to me, is the same as when someone confesses that they love the collected works of Nickelback and Creed. No. That is the line in the sand. We can never be friends. It’s just never going to happen. You could save me from drowning, and I’d be like, “Well, that was very nice of you, but are you still calling black people racist and jamming out to ‘Arms Wide Open?’ Oh, you are? Well then you suck.”

However, I would TOTALLY give my BFF charm to Madison, who, along with Sina, are the only two bright spots in this book. MADISON ILU!

Swoonworthy Scale: 0.5

I’m going to answer an age-old math question right now for you: what is less than zero? The answer is 0.5. Because that’s just enough of a number to indicate that something existed, but its existance was so bad that we couldn’t even summon ourselves to grade it on whole integers.

Such is the case with the swoonworthy scale in this book. There are two paramours for Alex: Reggie and Thaddeus. (Also, ugh. Who thought up these names?) Let’s take them in their turn:

•  Reggie is Alex’s “boyfriend” at the commune. She nearly goes to third base with him! Scandalous! The first half of this book is dedicated to how much Alex misses and loves Reggie, even though anyone with a brain, or even half a brain- hell, even those simple animals who only have the evolutionary beginnings of a neocortex, fucking lungfish, man, I don’t know – can see that Reggie is Up To No Good. And, indeed, after Alex runs away from Savannah and goes back to the hippie commune, Reggie has reunited with his lady love – whom he claimed was dead, bee tee dubs – and they are blissfully tonguing each other and smoking weed. Excellent.

•  Thaddeus – Oh, Thaddeus. Thaddeus is Hayes’ older brother and Madison’s ex-boyfriend. Thaddeus claims he was interested in Alex from the start – even though Alex spends most of her time either insulting him or crying in front of him – but curiously only gets with her once she’s had her hoodoo makeover and is a size 0 with no dreadlocks (well, I don’t blame him on that point). They have the most tedious, kissing-free relationship ever for about a month, and then Alex tries to do hoodoo on him to make him love her, because Alex has never seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer, living, as she did, on a commune, and therefore doesn’t know that you NEVER TRY TO MAGICK SOMEONE’S HEART. Because they will find out, and then they will sing a sad song about it with Giles, and then you will break up, and then you will get back together again and then she will be shot by Warren, even though the bullet’s trajectory defies the basic laws of physics but whatever. And then Dawn cries in the corner. THAT IS WHAT HAPPENS. Everyone knows this!

Talky Talk: Freaky Friday

If only this book were as fun as Freaky Friday, but that’s not really what I mean. You know how in Freaky Friday, or 17 Again, or Like Father Like Son or basically any of those whacky parent/child body-switching movies, the Parent-as-Teenager always totally embarrasses themselves by trying to talk to their new teen peers with some weird, made up dialect that they think The Kids Today will understand?

That’s what reading this book was like. It was like being trapped in the middle of a Freaky Friday nightmare. The author of this book typically writes adult literary fiction, and in what is becoming an unfortunate and disturbing trend, decided to rattle off a few YA books, presumably to pad the wallet. And like every other adult fiction writer in recent years, her YA effort reads like an assumption of what YA is, rather than what it actually is. This book lacked heart and it lacked depth, and half the dialogue was incomprehensibly ridiculous, but that isn’t what bothers me. I’ve read plenty of light, fluffy nonsense and adored it. What bothers me is the overwhelming suspicion that this book lacks depth and heart because the author felt it wasn’t necessary, that she could make a play at writing a book for laughs. And because, after all, it was only for teens, so it didn’t matter enough to put any effort in it. And that kind of attitude pisses me off, but moreover, it makes for a crappy book.

Bonus Factor: Food Descriptions

A green chile cheeseburger

Holla! This book wasn’t all bad, because there were so many good descriptions of food! Well, they started out good, anyway, but then by the time Alex hoodoos herself into being skinny, she has to eat enough food for three people, because her metabolism is so high. And I love fried chicken, but I do not want to read about someone eating three entire buckets of it.

Bonus Factor: Evil Grandmothers

Julie Andrews in the Princess Diaries

I do love a good evil grandmother! Miss Lee is way more evil than Grandmere, though they both enjoy a good Sidecar. Grandmere could be a biatch, but she never trapped Mia’s mother’s soul and tortured it, day after day.

Though something tells me that if she could figure out how, Grandmere would have done it.

Anti-Bonus Factor: People Who Don’t Understand How Racism Works

Christ, Alex. It seems I’m always having to break this down for you and people like you – spoiled, privileged people who don’t recognize how spoiled and privileged they are – but I will try again, using simple words and 1st grade math. Here we go!

Racism is not a black person being mean to you and making you cry. That is just a person being mean to you because you kind of suck and there is no point in being nice to you. Racism is also not: affirmative action, you getting passed over for a job/scholarship/college admission and someone of another skin color getting it, or poems, stories, articles, songs or blog posts about how white people sort of suck. There is no such thing as reverse racism. Shh. I know, I know. This is scary stuff I’m saying. But I promise it’s true. Reverse racism does not exist, and it’s actually the sociopolitical version of the word “irregardless.” It doesn’t actually make any sense at all if you look at it. And here’s why, and here’s where the math comes in:

Racism = Prejudice + Power

That’s it. That’s all. You have to have both. You can hate a person or people all you want, but unless you, as a race, have power over that person, as a race, it’s not racism. THE END.

Anti-Bonus Factor: The Vampire Diaries/Skeleton Key School of African-American Characters

As Jenny has wisely pointed out in her Vampire Diaries recaps and a friend and I noticed while watching the craptacular Skeleton Key once, the only African-American characters in this book practice hoodoo. All of them. They only exist to serve as mystical shamans, conjuring up the bogeyman for the benefit of the white people. I can’t see at all where this idea could be problematic! This sounds wonderful. We’re so post-racial, y’all!

Anti-Bonus Factor: Goddamn Dirty Hippies

Fuck me, but I hate hippies. Take a shower, get a damn job, put some fucking shoes on and comb your goddamn hair. And if you must insist on being a hippie, because you just can’t deal, man, with, like, The Man, then for fuck’s sake, do us all a favor and go to a commune far away from any town and then NEVER LEAVE THERE. And while I’m at it, stop pretending you’re homeless, assholes on the Drag in Austin.

Relationship Status: That Awkward and Boring First Date That You Later Googled and Found Out They Were a Member of the Ku Klux Klan or Something

Okay, no lie, this actually happened to a friend of mine! She met this guy and they had a few conversations and he asked her out on a date. So the day after the date I emailed her to see how it went, and she was like, “Meh. I mean . . . it was just okay? He was really boring and seemed sort of pompous? I’m not going to call him again.” and I was like, “Are you doing that thing that we as ladies do sometimes when we go out on a first date and the guy isn’t, like, the greatest thing ever, so we never call them back, but really it was just that maybe they were nervous or shy or we just needed to get to know them better and now we’ve totally closed the door on what could have been a good – and if not good, then at least fun while it lasts – relationship because we’re too picky?”

And she was like, “No. I wasn’t doing that. He was really kind of tedious.” And I was like, “Are you SURE, though? Like, are you sure that you’re sure? Are you really sure?” And she said, “Yeah. Seriously. It wasn’t going to work out.” And I said, “Oh! But maybe you just need another date to see! You should call him!” and she said, “You aren’t listening to the words that are coming out of my mouth,” and I said, “Oh my god, I could be maid of honor at your wedding!!”

From the above conversation you can clearly surmise that I am a crazy person and my friend is super patient with me. But when this guy sent my friend a Facebook friend request later that day, I totally felt vindicated! HE LIKED HER! AND THEY WERE GOING TO GET MARRIED AND MAKE BABIES AND NAME THEM AFTER ME!

My friend had the last, strangled-with-disbelief laugh, though, when she checked out this dude’s FB profile and saw that he was TOTALLY A MEMBER OF SOME WHITE SUPREMACY GROUP AND HAD LISTED NATHAN BEDFORD FORREST AS HIS HERO. WHAT?

Yeah, so. My friend had accidentally gone out on a first date with a white supremacist. That could happen to anyone! Right?

This book was a little bit like that. Not to say that I later found out that it was a member of Stormfront.org or anything! Not like that, I promise! I was just utilizing my friend’s experience as an example! I am not calling anyone racist!

But as I was reading this book, something just didn’t feel right. It felt like I was on a date with a guy who did things that he thought I was supposed to like – pull out my chair, order my meal for me, decide on the type of wine even though I know much more about wine than he does, etc – because he was basing his opinion on what I’d like from one How To Impress A Girl manual that he read in his parent’s basement when he was 13. He hadn’t spent any time getting to actually know any girls, and was just projecting an image of Girl As Entity onto me. This book did the same thing. It projected an image of what it thought YA was onto me, even though it widely missed the mark. I came away disappointed and annoyed, but it wasn’t until I went and Googled it that I felt validated in my opinion. . . because basically, this book is exactly what Katie Crouch thinks YA is. Namely, crap.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Hachette. I received neither money nor cocktails for this review (damnit!). The Magnolia League is available in stores now.

Erin is loud, foul-mouthed, an unrepentant lover of trashy movies and believes that champagne should be an every day drink.