Falling in Love with English Boys
by Melissa Jensen
I had heard so many wonderful things about this book - a contemporary teen romance, fun and light-hearted, I really expected to be swept away. Unfortunately, I think my expectations may have been too high, as the only things that stood out to me about this book were the glaring holes in the plot.
16 year-old Catherine Vernon is devastated to find out that she's being dragged off to London for the whole summer by her professor mom who is doing research at the British Museum. She gives her daughter a copy of the diary she's researching, written by Katherine Percival, a Napoleon-era socialite.
I found the style of the book quite jarring. In alternating chapters, 21st century Catherine and 19th century Katherine each relate her boy problems, the parties each of them plans to go to and the friends that she makes. I found myself racing through the book, desperate to get back to the other girl's story... and then, just as I'd slowed down, and decided to enjoy the narrative from a certain character's point of view, we'd be switching back again.
I suppose that the main point of the book is how Catherine, and her 19th century counterpart Katherine Percival are not so different after all; they are both fairly shallow, obsessed with cute boys, fashion and the social scene. Somehow though, Katherine Percival's bubble-headedness comes across as charming. Partly, it's because she uses flowery formal language of course, but a big part of it as well, is that we excuse her for not being well-educated or able to keep up in a serious conversation of politics or philosophy, because we know that women in that era had less opportunities. In Catherine Vernon's case, she has no excuse for being such a boy-crazy bimbo.
One thing that bothered me about the book was Catherine's fluent use of British slang. I found myself flipping back and re-reading the first part of the book, certain that I'd missed something. I thought that maybe she lived in England for part of the year (which would explain why she finds it so boring and tedious -- if it's familiar to her, naturally she wouldn't be as giddy as a game show contestant about the trip, as I imagine lots of girls would be.) No, no, she's not British and this is her first trip to England. Which means that her extensive use of British terms for everything come across as pretentious and a little pathetic. I was really surprised that none of the characters called out her on it. The English are notorious for "taking the piss out of someone" as they say, and while they do tease her for being a "Yank" here and there, nobody ribs her about her faux-British accent which I found pretty unbelievable.
In fact, one of the reasons why Catherine is so loathe to go to London for the summer is because she's leaving her circle of close-knit friends behind. She does manage to instantaneously bond with a new group of wealthy warm-hearted English girls, however, who swoop in to comfort her when it turns out the dreamboat she's crushing on, William, has a "it's complicated" relationship with an ex-girlfriend, impeding their romantic progress. The girls coo over Catherine, while their butler plies them with whatever junk food their hearts desire. We all should be so lucky when a crush doesn't work out!
Catherine and William soon surpass any previous obstacles however, and enjoy a few awesome make-out sessions before Catherine heads back to the States. Finally hooking up with the guy by the end of the book seemed like a hollow victory to me. I'm not advocating a "twoo wub forever" ending, which does seem unlikely in what is supposed to be realistic fiction about a young couple. But for all Catherine's emotional drama over this guy, she seems to leave him behind pretty blithely once her European trip is over. Oh, sure, she has some vague plan about maybe going to college in England or Scotland and seeing him again, but reading this with older, wiser eyes, I felt like this character was going to look back at this period in her life as "the one that got away" - wrong place, wrong time, but a happy memory to look back on, even if her own behavior was fairly cringeworthy at the time. Who will I recommend this book to? I'm not sure. There are a lot of realistic fiction romances that will have this one beat in spades. Any Sarah Dessen title would blow this one out of the water. Maybe I'll put this in the hands of serious Anglophiles who would enjoy the British slang, and would certainly keen in disapprobation over the main character's complete lack of appreciation for her good fortune.
I borrowed this book from the library.