The Other Side of the Page: Books and Comics
Review: Red Girl, Blue Boy
It took me less than a day (just two sittings) to read this book and I enjoyed right up to the end. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t end. Or rather, it doesn’t resolve. It ends — unresolved.
That is not necessarily a detraction. It can be fun when the next act is left up to the reader’s imagination. And it’s not an uncommon occurrence in the romance genre. But in this case it was personally infuriating and objectively confusing. Mainly I don’t understand who the audience for this book is. What sixth to tenth grader is going to care about the politics? But without the politics, the romance is as cliche as they come. And if the readers are politically savvy, they’ll be disappointed by the lack of any real political discourse or engagement and frustrated by the non-ending.
The set up is fun: Red Girl Katie is the daughter of the Republican candidate for President of the United States. Blue Boy Drew is the son of the Democratic candidate for President of the United States. Sparks fly and hijinks ensue. It plays just like a Disney Channel Original Feature and I mean that as a compliment. None of the characters have much depth beyond their quirks — Katie relies on books and movies to determine how to act around people her own age, Drew is emo about his family’s relatively recent wealth, Katie’s dad is an out of touch stuffed shirt who prattles about “the youtube”, Drew’s mom decided to run for president as her first campaign ever because that’s what PTA moms would do if they ever found themselves with enough money to try. Drew has younger twin brothers and Katie has a secret service agent who takes her on her first trip to the mall. Inexplicably they all live in Connecticut — I’ve lived in Connecticut my whole life and the idea that not just one but both of the presidential nominees would hail from my state is hilarious. The author also claims Connecticut is known for its beautiful beaches (coastline, okay, beaches…whut) and Drew’s dad got rich in the tech industry so I’m thinking she’s got it confused with California, but I digress.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the incredible privilege Katie carries around (“I often wonder how anyone gets by with less than an acre of land.”) she is a winning heroine. She’s sheltered and it’s made her awkward, and she’s indoctrinated but it hasn’t made her close-minded. Drew is less interesting in that he’s Every Boy in Every Teen Romcom Ever — the underappreciated quirky genius guy’s guy who passive aggressively turns a socially awkward but not actually ugly duckling into a swan, also his girlfriend. Their secret romance climaxes at a school dance because of course it does. There’s also a bizarre supernatural element to their love story thrown in for no discernible reason (perhaps it’s required to be part of the ‘If Only’ series?).
Red Girl, Blue Boy is scheduled to be released October 20, 2015, seven days after the first Democratic Primary Debate, and eight days before the third Republican Primary Debate, of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election Season. Its political themes are timely, but not fully realized. The candidates, their politics and policies are all so (deliberately, I’m sure) vague it’s difficult to be invested in any of it. And yet the process drives the plot, including the action of the romance. I don’t understand anyone’s motives to do anything because they all boil down to “because the election” but the election is toothless and never goes anywhere. I don’t want to read about indefinite politicians with ineffectual politics who are elevated to supreme status and screw over everyone and everything in my fiction, I get enough of it in reality.
That’s my main gripe — this novel is neither engaging nor escapism. It’s trying to be both and falls flat. Thus there are a lot of really great ideas (I would read a whole book of ‘The Kat and Dog Blog’ posts!) that get stuck in a mediocre book.