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I don't review books I don't like!

*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
**      = Enjoyable
*        = Good, with reservations


***How My Private, Personal Journal Became a Bestseller

by Julia DeVillers

Reviewed September 12, 2004.
Dutton Children’s Books, New York, 2004.  212 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (JF DEV).

If you liked The Princess Diaries, then you will probably like How My Private, Personal Journal Became a Bestseller.  The plot is essentially the same.  A mild-mannered, ordinary high school student is suddenly thrust into the spotlight.  In this case, she achieves fame not by discovering she’s royalty, but by accidentally turning in a story she wrote in her journal.  The class loves it!  Her English teacher once worked for a publishing company, so she makes contact with a literary agent, and soon there’s a bidding war for Jamie’s book.

Jamie even faces the same lesson as Princess Mia did of learning that the athletic hunk she had been adoring from afar is not really so wonderful when he wants to date you, and a less exciting-looking friend is much better boyfriend material.  This book differs from The Princess Diaries in that it has fewer crude spots, doesn’t have an annoying subplot about the mother dating the algebra teacher, and has an inspiring message.

You can’t help but like the hero of Jamie’s story, Isabella, who is the superhero IS.  IS takes on the villains of the high school social elite, people like the Insultor, the Fashionistor, and the Dietor, people who think her a Loser.  IS takes them on with her powerful Flick, forming her hand into a fist and then flicking out her fingers.  (Rather a catchy gesture.)  With the Flick, she reduces her enemies to nothing.

Although IS has no serious competition or obstacles that we hear about, Jamie’s own story has plenty as she tries to learn to look beyond appearances, despite suddenly having popularity handed to her like a gift.  Other teens who see themselves as Losers confide in Jamie, and the Flick spreads through the country, empowering girls everywhere.

The one thing I didn’t like about this story is the same thing I didn’t like about The School Story, by Andrew Clements, a book about an even younger kid turned bestselling author.  This book implies that someone can knock off a first draft in an evening and have something that people everywhere will love.  Now, I finished writing a children’s book about six years ago, and have yet to find a publisher.  If I believed that the scenario in this book were remotely possible, I’d figure I might as well give up now.  I had to remind myself not to be jealous of this character in a fun fantasy story.  I only hope that no teens will take it seriously and think that if not everyone likes a first draft they’ve written, that means they don’t have talent to be a writer some day.

However, as long as I set aside my own jealousy and skepticism, I could enjoy this light-hearted, fun story with a great message.  Is there a high school student anywhere who doesn’t feel at least a little insecure about themselves?  The insecure high school student buried deep inside me was energized and empowered by this book.  Next time I feel inadequate or insecure, I’m going to do some Flicking to remind me of what’s truly important.

This book was a perfect light-hearted contrast to The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, which I had finished just before.

Copyright © 2004 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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