My Summary: Natalie always wanted to be a an actress. But when that failed, she joined the school paper instead, deciding that she now wanted to be a writer. She takes the position of Dr. Aphrodite, the romance advice columnist. At first, when she finds out about a journalism contest, she can't think of a good topic. When her credentials are called into question, she starts to doubt herself as a writer and as a person, because she only tells people what they want to hear. Eventually, she decides that, in order to actually understand romance and boys she will go undercover at an all boys boarding school. During her week undercover she falls for her roommate, sees how to hard it is to be unpopular, and learns a lot about herself.
This book was exactly what I needed. It was light and fun and clever and earnest, almost everything I wanted it to be. It was a nice distraction in a weekend where I had a history culminating and math and history exams to study for. Exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it.
The first fifty pages were a little bit of a struggle for me. The characters, most notably Natalie and her best friends, were a little too cliched, a little underdeveloped and annoying. The first fifty pages pretty much detailed the lives of three very popular and very pretty best friends. Yeah, thanks, I don't need that.
Once the ball got rolling and she actually started attending the boy's school, things got much better. Natalie became awkward, but also very insightful, finally filling out her character. All the male characters introduced at this new school were also dynamic--Tyler, the adorably geeky guy, Josh the idiot jock, and Emilio the sensitive hottie roommate. Finally, I had someone to like, something to root for.
I love this picture. Do you get it--root for romance?!? CLASSIC!
From there, the book only got better. I thought Natalie's observation were, on the whole, quite interesting. She had a really hard time hiding her girlishness--not only the physical attributes, but the mannerisms and personality. I had never really thought of that. I really connected with this part of Natalie's struggle. I'm not much of a girly-girl, but I have feminine tendencies that I would have a hard time hiding.
I also found the insight in males quite intriguing. There was a little bit of the predictable "they're actually human beings" type of thing, but there was also a lot of study of how boys communicate differently then girls. How boys are (generally) less physical and less verbal, but no less communicate just as much as any girl. How boys are limited just as much as girls, just in different ways. Girls are expected to be skinny. Well, guys are expected to hide their emotions. Which one would you prefer?
The main problem that I had with this book is its similarity to the movie She's the Man.
The minute I read the synopsis, I thought of the Amanda Bynes movie. The review I read of it even mentioned the film by name. Part of me feels like I have no right to complain about the similarities, since I knew what I was getting going in.
The other part of me has a few, somewhat minor complaints. Obviously, if you're going to write a book about this topic in this day and age, you would have seen the movie. If it were me, I would try to distinguish my book from the movie as much as possible. The author, though, takes an opposite approach. As a result, a handful of scenes feel like they're stolen right from the screen. In She's the Man, Amanda Byne's Viola is crazy about soccer. In Babe in Boyland, soccer is replaced with Theatre, but the obsession plays out the same way. There's also the prerequisite girl gets hit in the groin and has to pretend like it hurts scene, and girl has trouble showering with boys problems.
By the end, though, the similarities stopped bothering me. I realized that yes, they do share the same core idea, and yes, they do even share some scenes. But each has different strengths, and, as a result, each can take up a different compartment in my brain.
She's the Man is really, really funny. It has a million different stories going at once, all intertwined a giant web of deception and misconceptions. It's a hollywood production--go big or go bust. It is silly and ridiculous and really cliched and a ton of fun.
Babe in Boyhood is very different. It is less laugh-out-loud funny and more amusing. The plot is less complicated, but the characters are more unique. The purpose of She's the Man is make a sellable movie. The purpose of Babe is to sell books, but also to make the reader think, and provide insight into girls, boys, and life in general. She's the Man is funnier, but also fluffier. Babe in Boyland digs below the surface, providing more than comic relief. In that way they compliment each, instead of being in competition with each other.
One thing they do have in common is the romance problem. When the girl is pretending to be a boy, how can another boy fall for her without being gay? She's the Man handles this issue by having Duke meet Viola and develop a relationship with her, outside Sebastian. Babe in Boyland takes the harder route, which, ultimately, I found more rewarding.
My Final Thoughts: Babe is Boyland will not change your life. But it will brighten your day. It will make you smile and make you laugh, and even make you think. To me, there's nothing more I could ask for in a book, especially right now.