Most helpful critical review
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 2008
Michelle Embree, Manstealing for Fat Girls (Soft Skull, 2005)
It's been a bit of time since I've read this, because I haven't quite been sure what to say about it. I've read both sides of the argument over this book, and I can see the points both sides are making. The one thing I haven't been able to see is the one aspect of the book about which everyone else sees in it: its sense of humor. Both critics and defenders seemed to find the book uproariously funny. I missed the joke.
I'm not even going to try and summarize this incredibly (and needlessly) complex novel beyond the barest bones. The story involves Angie, who's sixteen, fat, and bi-curious. Her mother is dating a jerk, her best friend is both out of the closet and flamboyant, and the only guy she knows who treats her like a human being is so odd that, until we get some third-party confirmation, the reader may be left wondering if he's actually a figment of Angie's imagination. Angie is obsessed to the point of madness with dieting, which never works, but the attention that a classmate slowly starts paying her leads her to the first tentative steps towards believing that she's pretty the way she is. And that's when things start getting weird.
The central premise there is the book's strong point, to me at least--it's a book that does promote the idea that there's more to attractiveness than the physical, which is an especially important lesson in today's society (though like most other books that have that message, it never seems to take into account the idea that some guys really do actually find fat chicks hot; it takes the same tack of "well, I like you no matter what you look like" that everyone else does, which is highly annoying). Its problem is that while that does seem to be the main thrust of the book, it's sometimes hard to tell, because it gets buried under the weight of its own subplots, seemingly extraneous (if well-drawn) characters, and attempts at--veracity?--that just come off silly. (Maybe that's the humor I missed?)
In any case, as I said at the beginning of this, I can see both sides of the debate. Yes, high school kids actually do these things. (Well, most of them.) And this is nothing new; high school kids did these things when I was in high school, and that's long enough ago that what we did is probably considered very old hat by today's standards. So to contend that high school students should be sheltered from it is purest stupidity. But on the other side of the coin, I do think the book tries too hard and reaches too far into the absurd in its quest to either identify with its target audience or make them laugh (your call). But it's readable enough that the all-out absurdity in the final third of the novel acquires a certain weird charm. Or it may annoy you to death. Depends. Like everything else about this book. ***