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Sour Pathwork of a Novel
on February 5, 2010
The first "L.A. Candy" novel was a surprisingly sweet (no pun intended...well, maybe a little) first novel by reality star-cum-N.Y. Times Bestselling Author Lauren Conrad. Expectations were very low, so when the book hit stands with an engaging mix of wit, humor and surprisingly tight writing, the book became a bonafide hit among teen girls. Alas, the second book in Conrad's purported trilogy of young adult novels strips the characters Conrad created/adapted/mimicked-from-reality of anything appealing and replaces it with idiot-plot contrivances and once-smart characters acting about as smart as their extensions.
First, a note of apology if you've come to this review having never heard of "The Hills" as I will talk openly of the parallels between the book and the "reality" that spawned it. Chances are if you are on this page, you know, but if by some chance you don't, please look it up on Wikipedia and then return later.
"Sweet Little Lies" picks up less than a week after the first book's cliffhanger, with reality superstar Jane Roberts (a thinly-vieled interpretation of Conrad) on a self-imposed exile with Madison (Heidi). Madison had released photographs of Jane cheating on her boyfriend Jesse (Jason) to Gossip Magazine then whisked Jane away before her best friend Scarlet (another side of Conrad's personality) could warn her. Jane had cheated on Jesse in part because of Jesse's erratic behavior and oft-drunkedness and because she was secretly in love with his best friend Braden.
As the book commenced, I was excited to see how Conrad would pay off the explosive turn of events and how it would change the dynamic between the three main female characters in the trilogy. But then, in an inexplicably mind-numbing move, Conrad fails to pay-off any of these developments for at least 240 of the book's 300-and-change pages. Instead she turns Jane, who had been up until this point a smart and sympathetic heroine, into the kind of gullible dumb girl viewers think the girls from "The Hills" really are.
Despite having her best-friend-since-childhood and ex-boyfriend-with-nothing-to-lose tell her in no uncertain terms that Madison was the one who leaked the photos, Jane decides not to believe them and, in another childish move, isolates herself from Scarlet for most of the book while growing closer to Madison, believing every one of her lies and not getting suspicious that every secret she shares with her frienemy just happens to show up in the next week's issue of "Gossip."
In addition to this, Jane re-ignites her romance with Jesse. In the first book it was not-too-subtly hinted that Jesse had drinking problems and a possible drug addiction. Oh well, Jane thinks, and immediately falls back in love with him, even as he becomes an abusive boyfriend. Their relationship sours quickly, but Jane refuses to call it quits even after Jesse takes her on a drunken joyride through Los Angeles, cheats on her repeatedly, continues to drink and do drugs around her and finally becomes emotionally and physically abusive to her.
Look, I'm a big supporter of heroes and heroines of books make mistakes and have three dimensions, but Jane's actions in "Sweet Little Lies" cross the line. This is NOT the kind of book that parents should be recommending that their teenage daughters read, and Jane is no longer a role model. Abusive relationships are a very real thing, and the fact that Conrad lets her main character not only stay in the relationship for such a long period of time but enable him time and again to continue his out-of-control actions is setting the worst possible model for teen girls. The relationship isn't even viewed realistically--it's so obvious from their reconciliation that it is a plot contrivance that will be take hundreds of pages to clear up--which makes the circumstances even sadder. Add in that she alienates her longtime best friend for a woman obviously manipulating every facet of her life and you have made Jane Roberts almost irredeemably unlikable. Since she is supposed to be the anchor of the series, this is a big problem.
There are moments and glimmers where the fun and wit of the first book return, albeit briefly. I'm thinking of a conversation between Jane and her office-mate Hannah (Whitney) in the bathroom while the producers are almost breaking down the door to stop it or when Gaby (Audrina), the dim-bulb of the show, shows surprising insight and depth, but these are fleeting. Conrad also makes attempts to humanize Madison instead of portraying her as a one-dimension villain, which is interesting in theory, but this does not pay off.
Everything about "Sweet Little Lies" screams that the book is merely a placeholder between the fun of the first book and the real pay-offs of the third. Conrad spins her wheels for most of the book's pages and, though the finale sets up an fascinating dynamic between the characters for the final chapter in the trilogy (though I can't imagine HarperCollins will allow such a lucrative franchise to die out so soon), that cannot excuse the fact that, well, nothing of note happens until the last forty pages of this book. In fact, you could slap the last few chapters of this book onto the end of "L.A. Candy" and not miss the first thirty-some chapters at all. Am I interested enough to pick up the third book, especially since it promises to explore the explosive Team Lauren v. Team Heidi seasons of "The Hills"? Probably. But that doesn't excuse that this is a significant let-down with a horrible message for teen girls and excruciating pacing.