Ellie Yelinsky is starting her freshman year at the New England College of Art and Design, and it's not exactly turning out like she expected. She falls for the devil at a costume party (in reality, cute sophomore Nate Finerman). She finds that her hippie parents have hidden pot in her baggage. Her beginning art instructor is a hysterical arm waver who only speaks in one tone: earsplitting. But the most disturbing discovery Ellie makes is that her paintings, mostly "screaming heads strangled by boa constrictors" are not dark, brooding masterpieces, but cheesy melodrama. However life, like art, isn't always what it seems. Nate actually is the devil, or at least a smooth-talking painter who considers himself the campus de-virginizer. Her dad only put pot in her suitcase in an attempt to make a meaningful connection with her. And even if Mr. Gilloggley is in desperate need of volume control, the more Ellie listens to him, the more she sees that what he has to share might actually help her grow past teen angst into true art.
Using spare language and a dry, witty tone, Hillary Frank skewers the hypocritical world of art school in this brilliant debut novel. Ellie's sharp, restrained observances are a refreshing change from the gushing girl novels that have sprung up in the wake of Louise Rennison's Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging. Intelligent and mature, Better Than Running at Night will appeal most to those discerning teen connoisseurs of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky, and My Heartbeat, by Garret Freymann-Weyr. (Ages 14 and older) --Jennifer Hubert
From Publishers Weekly
Set at a prestigious (fictional) art school, this first novel revolves around a talented college freshman wrestling with her first relationship. Ellie, the narrator, is first met while dirty-dancing with the Devil, in a scenario quickly revealed as a costume party; a "sneering Elvis" joins them to set up a threesome ("Soon we were all making out"). This provocative opener only partially prefigures Frank's themes. Nate, the student dressed as the Devil, and Ellie make love a week or so later; shortly afterward, Ellie learns that Nate has an "open relationship" with a longtime girlfriend, plus a reputation for womanizing. Meanwhile, she acclimates to student life and deals with her parents, former hippies who openly discuss their youthful drug-taking and who have no idea which of Ellie's mother's many partners was Ellie's biological father. Frank proves most successful in characterizing Ellie as a painter the discussion of art is unusually specific, knowledgeable and convincing. The author also skillfully depicts the zeitgeist among the students, most of whom lionize the showy performance artists (among them a teacher who leads his class in taunting Ellie for her "old fart" pursuit of representational art). But Frank fumbles in linking Ellie's family dynamics to her attempts to come to terms with Nate. The parents are much less developed than the other characters, and this aspect of the story never quite jells. On balance, however, the many truthful moments and the strong portrayal of the heroine will likely compel readers' attention. Ages 14-up . (Aug.)
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