Wednesday, May 7, 2014

5 Heart Review: Don't Call Me Baby by Gwendolyn Heasley

Don't Call Me Baby
Gwendolyn Heasley

Page Count: 304

Release Date: April 22nd 2014
Publisher: Harper Teen (Harper Collins)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Little Bird Publicity!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Perfect for fans of Jennifer E. Smith and Huntley Fitzpatrick, Don't Call Me Baby is a sharply observed and charming story about mothers and daughters, best friends and first crushes, and our online selves and the truth you can only see in real life.

All her life, Imogene has been known as the girl on that blog.

Imogene's mother has been writing an incredibly embarrassing—and incredibly popular—blog about her since before she was born. The thing is, Imogene is fifteen now, and her mother is still blogging about her. In gruesome detail. When a mandatory school project compels Imogene to start her own blog, Imogene is reluctant to expose even more of her life online... until she realizes that the project is the opportunity she's been waiting for to define herself for the first time.
"You're [speaking at the Mommies/Daughters panel at BlogHer], no ifs, ands, or buts. We've made a commitment, and we're keeping it. The Mommylicious name means something, and I intend for it to stay that way."
It's funny that my mom cares more about what strangers think of her than her own daughter. Good thing she can't read my mind; she'd flip if she knew about The Plan. What will strangers think after I follow through on that?

In an age of expanding technology and the inclination to go public with every single detail of our lives, it's no secret that bloggers and blog followers rule the internet (I mean, hello? Who's writing and reading this right now?). But have we ever stopped to think about how the internet is ruling us?

Don't Call Me Baby raises an issue in social media through the exasperated perspective of the daughter of a prolific mommy blogger. Labeled "Babylicious" since before she was even born, Imogene is fed up with 14 years of her life revolving around her mom's blog. When the opportunity to give her mother a taste of her own medicine arises, she takes it. Her best friend (also a big-time blogger's daughter) becomes her partner-in-crime, and both girls are determined to show their moms what it really feels like to be exposed to the public 24/7.

Imogene is in ninth grade, but not yet in high school, so I would avoid categorizing this book into the Young Adult genre. Its tone and content make it seem very much more Middle Grade, and I guess that's one of the first things that irked me. Imogene seems extremely immature, even though she claims to be all-knowing. She's just a difficult character to like overall: not humorous, not humble, not particularly strong, not clever. Since she narrates the story first-person, it was hard for me not to be annoyed by it. There are other elements that make this book seem more likely appropriate for a younger, simpler audience as well, including the linear, predictable storyline, the static schoolgirl crush that attempts to incorporate a flavor of bland "romance," and the exaggeratedly clichéd characters, e.g. the stubborn, loyal best friend, the kind dad, the adorable crush, the awesome teacher... it was like Gwendolyn Heasley took a "Character Clichés in Children's Fiction" checklist and ticked each one off one by one.

Everything is too cut-and-dried, rather than realistic, so I just couldn't get that into the story. I appreciate the contemporary significance and the scattered bits of internet humor—I have to say, how many novels have you read about blogging?—and Heasley's writing style is clear enough, but Don't Call Me Baby failed to really engage or impress me.

Pros


Easy to read // Tackles an underrated but prevalent issue today through the format of a children's novel // Sweet sentiments on family, friends, and identity // Might be popular among middle grade readers

Cons


Not really YA, more middle grade // Mommylicious is ridiculous and over the top // Unrealistic // Imogene is really childish and annoying // Formulaic secondary characters

Love

It's really, really easy to love something—or someone—once. It's much harder to learn to love something—or someone—the second time, but it's that second time that usually matters most ... Loving twice is harder, but love anytime is always worth it.

Verdict


Both a modern parody of the blogging life and a snapshot of one bitter daughter's attempt to get her mother's fickle attention, Don't Call Me Baby is a light middle grade novel that contains amplified teenage angst and some deeper views about relationships and realizing that the world does not revolve just around ourselves. While I did find Imogene to be egocentric and irritating, and the story to be rather unexciting, this is a swift, mindless read that deals with an aspect of the digital age that I do find important. Mostly, though, I cringed at some hyperclichés and the it-all-works-out-in-the-end! attitude; Gwendolyn Heasley's newest novel is too fluffy, too even, too square. It's not a bad read necessarily, but it just didn't awe me, didn't make me bleed Americanflag

5 hearts: Doesn't particularly light any of my fires; I feel indifferent about this book (x)