The Fine Art of Truth or Dare by Melissa Jensen
Imagine feeling lost in a family full of big personalities, or in a school where you're completely invisible except to your two best friends, or in your own mind sometimes when you're convinced that the love of your life is an artist who died almost 100 years ago.
Welcome to Ella's world.
In her novel The Fine Art of Truth or Dare, Melissa Jensen captures that everyday, ordinary, unfortunately normal feeling of not fitting into the world to which you belong. Ella is a junior on scholarship at the prestigious Willing School and knows two things for sure: one is that she can always count on her best friends Frankie and Sadie and that they often see her even when it feels like her own family is too crazy or wrapped up in their own thing, and two is that she is completely devoted to a little-known artist named Edward Willing who died in the early 1900s. But there are other things she knows, too. She knows that she hates the giant scar from the hot water burn she got when she was little. She knows that playing truth or dare with Frankie and Sadie is something sacred to her. And she knows that to pass French, she'll have to actually study and that means getting along with the ever-popular Alex, a guy she doesn't want to fall for, but can't help it.
This book had an incredibly strong start - right away, readers get into the middle of the situation. You feel as if you've known Frankie and Sadie all their lives, too, and that even though this is an elite high school, it's still very familiar. I could personally identify very well with Ella feeling a bit like an outsider as the quiet girl in a large and loud (but still quite loving) Italian-American family (story of my life!). She has a bit of a Mia Thermopolis a la Princess Diaries feel about her with her self-deprecating humor and sometimes being blind to what's obvious to others. The Alex situation was something we've seen in books before (invisible girl-popular boy setup), but it was told in a way that I felt was incredibly authentic. It's not like Ella's had this long and unrequited love for him by any means - she does not want to have feelings for him, but sometimes you can't help it. They are both flawed and I found that to be refreshing. And while I know others have criticized the fact that Ella has "conversations" with a picture of Edward on her wall, it didn't bother me. As an outer representation of Ella battling with her conscience, I felt that the technique was fine (and honestly, we all talk to ourselves. It happens).
My only criticisms come toward the end of the novel. I felt that a bit of trimming could have made the story a tad tighter (less excerpts from books on Edward, for example), and the ending a was a bit abrupt for my taste. I felt that the resolution came about just a smidgen too neatly and quickly, and I would have liked just a bit more explanation on some aspects of what was going on. (I'm being purposely vague so as to not give away any spoilers).
That being said, I really had a fun time reading this book. It's a great pick for a summer read or if you're looking for a light contemporary tale. After reading this, I hope to read Jensen's other novel from 2010, Falling in Love With English Boys, too.
Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!
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