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Friday, January 31, 2014

Something Real by Heather Demetrios | review


'"So everyone's observing everyone all the time, which means we really don't know who the real version of anyone is?"
"Yeah. And so basically, Big Brother doesn't have to watch us because we're watching each other..."


Something Real by Heather Demetrios
Get It | Add It
416 pages
Expected publication: February 4th 2014 by Henry Holt BYR
Winner of the 2012 PEN New England Discovery Award!

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.


Something Real is a pitch-perfect coming of age story about finding yourself and your voice, and how much that struggle is compounded when all eyes are on you. I had a feeling I would like this one, as reality TV and the obsession with celebrity is something that freaks me out, frankly, and I think is ripe for the exploring through books like this. Fortunately, I wasn't wrong - Demetrios' story and characters easily won me over, and her humor and engaging style, and sharp understanding of human nature, made this one enjoyable and surprisingly affecting.

Now, I'm going to try to not go totally off on a tangent when I say this, and I mean it as a good thing, so bear with me, but: this book kinda had me a little depressed. It's not that it's a saccharine, traumatizing, emo-fest; the book retains its sense of humor and sort of 'Ugh, my life' tone, keeping it relatable and believable, and just generally readable. But because it was so believable, it brought to life one of my least favorite things about the modern age, and that is the stifling, piranha-crazed mess that is our obsession with celebrity culture and its (apparent) lack of privacy.

The anonymity of the internet and the constant feed of images from other people's lives has given us license to take the playground bully phase into our adult lives with impunity; one look at the comments section on youtube, gawker, reddit, etc. will tell you that people don't blink an eye when it comes to laying bare their most vile, callous, unasked-for and uncalled-for opinions for the world to see. They do so gleefully. People will post anything, from one extreme to another, about every last aspect of a person's life - a complete strangers life - including the most vile things you could ever say about a person; they will put this all into writing and make it a concrete, shareable released unto the world, with a total lack of any feeling of guilt or empathy. When people speak out against these things, there is always, always, an avalanche of comments to the effect of They signed up for this, she knew what she was getting herself into, he's more than compensated for this, etc etc, as if any of that is an excuse to treat human beings the way we do. We shrug and say, Comes with the territory, as if this is an unavoidable evil.
As if we don't decide what "the territory" is, as if we don't decide what type of people, what type of culture we want to be.
As if going about your LIFE on the day to day gives people the right to harass you, your children, your friends, family and barest acquaintances just because your WORK happens to be in the public sphere.
And it's so pervasive - it's thoroughly inescapable and it warps us all. I don't watch celebrity news shows, read the gossip mags or blogs, and yet I can still tell you who's dating who and I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHY.
THIS is the dystopia of our time. We live in 1984, and it is of our own choosing.

My god, I sound maudlin. But to have a soul-stealing spotlight like this thrust on you from an early age - from any age, frankly - and to know you can never escape it - never, truly never - has got to make you feel defeated. To be your own brand, to have to make every move of your life calculated to suit that brand...it's disheartening and dehumanizing, and it pervades everything. It's CREEPY. And then heaped on that, the guilting and shaming if you dare to disrupt the flow... It just makes me sad. And tired. I felt real empathy for Bonnie™. She's not even real, yet I was kinda stressed for her. I was sad for her. I was sad for the real people like her that bite off more than they can chew when it comes to life in the spotlight, or find themselves unwittingly (or unwillingly) thrust into it. I suppose there are worse things, bigger problems to worry about in this world, but we can't choose what freaks us out, and paparazzi feeding frenzies freak me out. It makes me feel claustrophobic. And then, expanding beyond the paparazzi into everyone having to have - and express. Vocally - an opinion, and it just makes me feel disheartened.

 And yet, this is something we seem to welcome, to strive for. Hell, I'm just a blogger and I'm told to think about "my brand." I'm just a random girl on the internet talking about books and people don't hesitate to comment on my looks/weight/voice/clothes, ask to see my tits (and an inordinate amount of requests to see my feet, WTF?), and any other thing they feel comfortable with saying behind the anonymity of a computer screen. And that, I think, is what's at the heart of why this bothers me so much - if all it takes is a little anonymity for people to behave the way they do, then that's what we really are at our most base, and it doesn't even take much digging to get there. This behavior exposes us. And Heather Demetrios holds up a mirror to that and, through Bonnie™, shows us what we value versus what we should; how we should treat people versus how we do.

And so, yeah, I wasn't supposed to go off on a tangent, but all of that. That's what made me feel a little depressed, just really, really sad reading this book. It put a face to all of those things that have always sort of eaten at me, and the inescapability and manipulation in the story (and its sheer plausibility) all worked together to make this more powerful and affecting than I thought it'd be.

...all of this makes it sound like I sit around all day, stressing out over the fishbowl lives of celebrities. Guys, I'm really not. I'm not that neurotic, I promise. So, MOVING ON, basically what I'm trying to say is it was good and it felt real, and it made me feel, which always makes me rate a book higher in my estimation, and makes it more memorable to boot. I fully believed Bonnie™ as a character, as well as pretty much all of the people she was surrounded by. Some made my skin crawl, some made me have hope - she really nailed the characters. Bonnie™ has a strong voice and sense of humor, and Demetrios deals with difficult subject matter in a non-cloying way. She explores relationships, decisions and choices really well, keeping it all relatable, and very realistic. Bonnie™'s doubts of whether she's doing the right thing, whether she should just go with the flow, whether she's causing more harm than good by trying to stand up for herself, etc., ring very true, and the myriad ways people react to what she's doing, how people (complete strangers, those closest to her, everyone) treat her and have opinions on her was sadly realistic and perfectly captured.

The pressure and the fishbowl and the emotional blackmail - all of it felt true and heartbreaking, and made the book memorable.  But lest you think its a depressing sobfest, it's not; it manages to always be engaging and often surprisingly light-hearted, with the emotional peaks and valleys that signal a well-plotted book and a good understanding of human nature. And though it made me sad, it's also an empowering book. It's about finding your voice, finding yourself, and not being afraid to embrace that. It made me sad because clearly I'm more neurotic than I'm willing to admit, but it's also funny and smart and sexy and triumphant. There was never a time where I felt it fell flat or had a weak spot. The revelations, manipulations, and peeks into the family dynamics are well-placed to keep the tension, and looooong story short, I think Heather Demetrios is one to watch.

Jesus, why did it take me so long to get to that?
I might have some deep-seated privacy issues...

Oh, also: you should totally go check out this guest post from Heather. You know you want to.

6 comments:

  1. Your feet??? Okaaaaay.

    Feet fetishes aside, this book sounds good. I know what you mean about being kind of depressed when reading it. I've had that happen before too, when book is so realistic in certain ways that it makes you sad to think about it. I find it interesting to see this situation crop up in books recently (the reality TV setting). I think it's an interesting topic and I'm glad it's being explored in literature.

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  2. I can see that this book would be somewhat depressing. I'm definitely someone who needs a lot of privacy, myself.

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  3. I'm impressed that Demetrios was able to successfully add depth to Bonnie's character. In other books I've read in this genre, the main character is usually a bubbly 2D type happily navigating fame and fortune. I'm excited to see a book about the more serious side of celebrity. (Although I imagine that I, too, will be a little freaked about the privacy issues that the book brings up. I don't envy the famous!)

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  4. This is totally silly but I initially wanted to read this book because the main characters name is Bonnie. lol Luckily, the book actually sounds pretty good! ...people seriously ask to see your feet? They deserve a kick in the head with said feet. Ew! Anyways, fabulous review I'm looking forward to this one even more now!

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    Replies
    1. Waaay too many people ask to see my feet. One guy wanted me to upload a video on youtube of my feet for 1 minute, and then he would "read" them and tell my fortune, or something.
      Uhh, no dude. You're just an internet creep with a foot fetish, looking for gullible girls. Move along...

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  5. Privacy is necessary. Having two younger sisters was bad because they were always by my side, I can't imagine having a camera on me all the time. Def want to read this book.

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