From Publishers Weekly
Egan's debut, an odd blend of young adult melodrama and unsuccessful metafiction, winds itself into knots of empty story lines. Recognizing that their dullard daughter, Carley, needs an academic boost, Gretchen and Francis Wells hire author Bree McEnroy to write a book to Carley's specifications. Though Carley's love for reality television and Bree's fondness for self-conscious literary tropes should, in theory, unite to make a delightful story-within-a-story, it is often neglected or underwritten. Meanwhile, the cardboard secondary cast floats around Bree and Carley: there's Hunter, Carley's crush, whose alcoholic rakishness, we are assured, masks a poet's interior; Carley's social-climbing mother and philandering father; and Justin, Bree's college chum, who has become, on dubious merit, a literary star. Carley and Hunter's friendship is jeopardized by both his addictions and her unrequited adoration, and Bree and Justin reconcile. Plagued by thin, when not wildly inconsistent, characterization from the start, the narrative's tendency to flit from character to character without revealing anything memorable or insightful further blurs the point. Unfortunately, there isn't enough heart to redeem the dopiness. (May)
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Carley Wells is a high-school junior at a private school in upscale Fox Glen, where families spend an undue amount of time and money outdoing each other’s party budgets. Carley is overweight by 57 pounds (according to her personal trainer), “intellectually impoverished” (according to her English teacher), and has never read a book she liked. Worried about college applications, Carley’s parents (who never read themselves) commission a book for her—a book whose author will be ensconced in their mansion and shown off at Carley’s Sweet Sixteen party—as evidence of the Wells’ “devotion” to good literature. While Carley and “The Author” collaborate on the book, Carley continues to struggle scholastically and socially—especially with her best friend, Hunter, a senior chick magnet with whom she has a deep but platonic relationship. Hunter’s own problems have led to excessive Scotch binges and a Vicodin addiction, unbeknownst to his clueless and apparently uncaring mother. Brimming with literary allusions, commentary on the rich and famous, and the necessary ingredients for a successful novel, Gibson’s ingenious debut succeeds on many levels. --Deborah Donovan