I have a love-hate relationship with any book that gets labeled as "chick lit". These are the books that, more often than not, have brightly-colored covers that almost invariably show a pair of legs with tights or funky shoes on (what is up with that? Why the legs? Why?), and they're usually badly written pieces of fluff about shopping and cheap relationships. Yet, when done right, a book directed at (certain types of) women can be funny and insightful, and they make for easy, fun reads when you're not in the mood for something too dense.
After my last two books, I definitely needed a break. A change of pace. I needed something small and colorful and for God's sake, something with a happy ending. This book fit that bill pretty nicely.
The plot is pretty simple. The main character, Anna Koval, starts up an online journal, where she posts stories about her life as Anna K. Most of the stories are true, but her online persona is changed slightly: she is part of a couple, and an actress among other things, while the real Anna is a bored librarian who has been single for over a year. Soon she starts getting barraged by fan mail, and she keeps on tweaking her life for her journal. She strikes up friendships with two fans in particular: a ditzy college student named Tess and a charming male fan who goes by the handle of LDobler, with whom she starts flirting over email. The plot follows Anna as she goes through her boring, single life while having writing on her journal.
Anna is miserable in her job and her love life. Though she broke up with her boyfriend more than a year ago, she is still stuck up on him (or the idea of him anyway). Her best friend, Dale, who is gay and preternaturally happy, observes her life and makes clever little quips about it. Anna soon discovers (thanks to Tess) that meeting fans of her online persona might not be such a good idea after all. She's afraid they'll all discover how fake she is.
Having been hooked on the internet myself for about 10 years now, I know how easy it is to pretend to be someone else through your online self. I found Anna's insecurities and fears about meeting online friends relatable and very, very true to life. There's the fear that you'll never be as fun or smart as your online persona, or that the person you'll meet will turn out to be a serial killer. But the truth (to me, anyway) is that unless you or the people you meet are huge psychotic liars, you can be yourself online, and you can get to know someone pretty well without actually meeting them. What I mean to say with all of this is that I never understood all the drama Anna creates. It felt blown way out of proportion. She just made herself a little more interesting, and who hasn't been guilty of doing this at least once in their lives? From the way she goes on you'd think she had pretended to be a millionaire or a celebrity, or a man. So it's problematic to me that I was supposed to be shocked by the double life Anna was leading, and I wasn't. At all.
My biggest problem with this book is actually that Anna Koval is sometimes unbearably dull. She has great stories, yes, and we're supposed to believe she's had a hilarious and interesting life. We're supposed to find her conversations with her friends funny and charming, but I honestly found them painful and almost embarrassing to read sometimes. I got a strange feeling while reading this book, like I had been watching a medium-quality sitcom. No one talks like this, I thought. It's funny, I guess, but…come on. The supporting characters, apart from Anna, never felt real to me, and she feels profoundly dull sometimes. I could imagine Ribon pulling real quotes from her own friends and forcing her characters to say them. In the end, Anna and her hipster buddies come off as just not that interesting. Then there's the completely unnecessary subplot involving Anna and a high school girl she meets. It felt tacked-on, serving only to provide a cheap moment of enlightenment for Anna, as if we didn't know all along that all she needed was to stop whining and take control of her own life. It's only her that takes an entire book to figure this out.
In the end, Why Girls Are Weird just seems badly matched with itself. There are moments of hilarity and sweetness, where I felt that this could've been a great book. Anna's relationships with her father and with LDobler both felt real, interesting, and touching. But then there are passages where I almost came to hate Anna Koval and her neediness, where it seemed like a whole other character had been put in place, one that I didn't like all that much. I wasn't as impressed by the secondary characters as much as I felt Ribon wanted me to be.
Ribon is undoubtedly a talented writer, witty and smart, but I don't think this book did her talent justice. It felt a bit empty, to be completely honest. That being said, it was an easy, short, fun book that perfectly fulfilled my need for a harmless read. And I got my happy ending, even if it was predictable and silly.
Now…can someone explain to me what the hell is up with these covers and the disembodied legs in funky socks and shoes? And to the boys: no, this book will not help you find out why girls are weird.
Note: I've been reading Pamela Ribon's online work for a while now. I first discovered it back when she used to write some awesome recaps for Gilmore Girls for Television Without Pity. She has a nice online journal of her own, www.pamie.com, if you're interested.