Pretty in Pink meets Anna and the French Kiss in this charming romantic comedy
Ella is nearly invisible at the Willing School, and that's just fine by her. She's got her friends - the fabulous Frankie and their sweet cohort Sadie. She's got her art - and her idol, the unappreciated 19th-century painter Edward Willing. Still, it's hard being a nobody and having a crush on the biggest somebody in the school: Alex Bainbridge. Especially when he is your French tutor, and lessons have started becoming, well, certainly more interesting than French ever has been before. But can the invisible girl actually end up with a happily ever after with the golden boy, when no one even knows they're dating? And is Ella going to dare to be that girl?
Review: The Fine Art of Truth or Dare was one of the 2012 releases I was most looking forward to. Unfortunately, I felt that its peculiar structure and its pacing made it a confusing and frustrating read.
Plot: Ella Marino is a smart, sassy, 16-year old who is interested in art and art history. In particular, she’s obsessed with Edward Willing, a post-Impressionist artist who was the nephew of the lady who founded her school, the Willing School. Ella comes from a large Italian family in South Philadelphia, full of eccentric characters like her father Ronnie who cooks for and runs the successful family restaurant, and Nonna, her grandmother who bosses everyone around. They’re happy and full of life, but not exactly rich.
The Willing School is full of rich kids, the Philadelphia elite (“Phillites”) like mean girl Amanda and her posse, and “Bees” who are the school “joiners” – they run the yearbook, the school dances, etc. And then there’s Ella and her friends, Sadie – a rich girl who doesn’t fit in – and Frankie – a half-Korean flamboyantly gay guy who’s from a similar socio-economic circle as Ella. The Phillites also include Ella’s crush, Alex Bainbridge, who is, of course, dating Amanda. Ella obviously has no chance with Alex, especially because she feels that the burn scar that covers one side of her neck, shoulder and breast make her ugly. This isn’t helped by people at school calling her “Freddy” – as in Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street.
The book swirls (really, it felt like swirling) between Ella’s research on Edward Willing, who she worships to the point of talking to a postcard of his portrait in her room, to her life with her crazy family, to her and her friends playing Truth or Dare to learn more about each other and discuss their lives, to her eventual (complicated) romance with Alex Bainbridge.
My thoughts: There’s a lot happening in this book. Maybe too much. The cast of characters was a bit too large, and because of that, the first 150 pages of this book felt like bald exposition. I felt like I was slogging through the beginning just looking for story. Secondary characters like Ella’s mother and sister Sienna also ended up feeling a bit like caricatures because of the short amount of time spent on them.
I also felt that there were too many plotlines competing for attention. Ella spends a lot of time trying to figure out what she wants, who she is, and how to relate to her friends and family. Between that, she still has to work on her project about Edward Willing, meet and pique the interest of Alex, and deal with her friends. It’s a lot. I felt like I was zooming between the storylines, and not in a natural way. The truth or dare element was cute, but it felt too much like a plot device designed to add humour.
That said, I really liked the teen characters in this novel. Ella is smart, sassy, and funny, her friends are interesting oddballs, and Alex is an artistic hottie who obviously gets Ella. The writing is hilarious at parts, which I really enjoyed, and I LOVED Ella’s research on Edward Willing and her conversations with him. In fact, I would venture to say that that research was the most interesting part of the book for me – maybe because I’m reading a book about archival research right now – even though I’m a sucker for romance.
Honestly, this book had all the elements of a book I would normally love – the writing is strong, the characters are cute, the concept is fun, the romance works, and I really did enjoy the family interactions. But because of the pacing, the structure, and the many plotlines and characters, the parts just didn’t fit together right.