Release Date: February 4, 2014
Publisher: Henry Holt BYR
There’s nothing real about reality TV.
Seventeen-year-old Bonnie™ Baker has grown up on TV—she and her twelve siblings are the stars of one-time hit reality show Baker’s Dozen. Since the show’s cancellation and the scandal surrounding it, Bonnie™ has tried to live a normal life, under the radar and out of the spotlight. But it’s about to fall apart…because Baker’s Dozen is going back on the air. Bonnie™’s mom and the show’s producers won’t let her quit and soon the life she has so carefully built for herself, with real friends (and maybe even a real boyfriend), is in danger of being destroyed by the show. Bonnie™ needs to do something drastic if her life is ever going to be her own—even if it means being more exposed than ever before.(courtesy of Goodreads)
Are you a fan of shows like Kate Plus 8 or The Duggars? Something Real is probably the closest any of us will come to knowing what the lives of the children on those shows is like. And it's not pretty.
*I've actually never watched either show. Reality TV has never appealed to me (granted, I find a myriad of other ways to waste time).*
The family in Something Real most resembles the Gosselin family, in that there are a lot of kids and the parents had a messy split. The show was cancelled shortly after the parents divorced and 13 year old Bonnie™ tried to kill herself. Now 4 years have passed and Bonnie™ has rechristened herself Chloe. She has a happy life at a school where no one knows who she is. That quickly changes when Mom and Stepdad decide to bring the show back into their lives.
Bonnie™/Chloe is a relatable main character. It's hard to define her personality, which I think says something. She tries to stay under the radar, even to the reader, which fits with her desire to be out of the spotlight. Her internal and external struggles and how she handles them felt very real. On a side note, I thought the use of '™' after Bonnie's name would get annoying. On the contrary, it was very important in establishing the intrusion of the show onto the family's life.
Bonnie™/Chloe's brother Benton was my favorite character. Like Chloe, Benny hates having the show back in his life, but he is able to go with the flow better. He is a happy person, with a serious boyfriend, and plans for the future. But even he can't escape from the claws of the show. The relationship between Chloe and Benny is a highlight of this book. It is a sibling relationship anyone would kill to have. Two people who love and support each other through thick and thin.
The most significant side characters are Patrick the boyfriend and Chloe's mother. Patrick came off as too perfect to be believed at first. But as the story developed, he also seemed very real. He had some flaws, but I realized that I'm so used to melodramatic boyfriends in YA that I forget that many teenage boys really are nice people. Chloe is lucky to have found a sincerely good guy and it's great to have a love interest I really root for.
Somewhat similarly, Chloe's mother comes off as a cardboard villain. She sort of remained that way but there were moments where she seemed three dimensional. She selfishly let TV cameras back into her family's life, knowing the damage it could cause and that the older kids didn't want it. Her thirst for attention, fame, and drama outshined her love for her children. On the other hand, 15 mouths are a lot to feed and part of me sympathized with her attempts to provide for her family in the only way she knew.
I can't recommend Something Real highly enough. Despite the brightly colored cover and reality TV topic, this is no romp. It's a hard hitting realistic look at the downside of fame and at a severely dysfunctional family. And yet it is immensely readable. It manages to be funny, sad, touching, uplifting, and infuriating without feeling maudlin. I wanted to reach through the pages and pull Bonnie™/Chloe out of her horrific family, but I also wanted her to stay right there so I could see what fascinatingly awful thing would happen next. One of the most compelling contemporary fiction books I've read in a long time.
Rating: 5 / 5
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