Monday, July 22, 2013

Review of Katie Sise's The Boyfriend App, or Meg has Mixed Feelings

Happy Monday, fellow mad ones! Thought you all might like a little YA to get you through your day. Up this week: The Boyfriend App by Katie Sise.

"In The Boyfriend App by Katie Sise, super-smart, somewhat geeky Audrey McCarthy can’t wait to get out of high school. Her father’s death and the transformation of her one-time BFF, Blake Dawkins, into her worst nightmare have her longing for the new start college will bring.

But college takes money. So Audrey decides she has to win the competition for the best app designed by a high schooler—and the $200,000 that comes with it. She develops something she calls the Boyfriend App, and suddenly she’s the talk of the school and getting kissed by the hottest boys around. But can the Boyfriend App bring Audrey true love?"

This Goodreads summary was what prompted me to check The Boyfriend App out of the library this past week – it struck me a cute, breezy summer read with a phenomenal core idea. 

Although is it just me, or did the Boyfriend Maker already cover this?
In some ways the novel lived up to these expectations: main character Audrey is a smart, hoodie-wearing, pixie-haired programmer who is still finding ways to work through the death of her dad. When mega-corporation Public (think: Apple and Facebook had a baby) announces the best mobile app contest for high schoolers, Audrey immediately knows she has to win, not only for the scholarship money, but also to honor her late father, also a programmer, who taught her everything she knows. The contest puts her squarely in competition with some of her best friends, including her secret crush, Aidan.

This was the first third or so of the novel, and by and large I enjoyed it. Sise manages to work in some snarky humor, like the moment when Carrie, a popular cheerleader, approaches cutie Aidan in the cafeteria, and Audrey jealously thinks that “her cheerleading skirt was so short I found myself hoping she’d get an infection.” For those of you who know us at Mad but Magic, you'll also know we love untraditional female protagonists, and Audrey definitely qualifies. Also, some of Sise’s commentary on tech culture and pop culture is very relevant: Audrey and her cousin Lindsay work hard to promote the Boyfriend App on their blog and Twitter pages. 
Bonus points if you can spot the novel's J-Biebs look-alike!
 However. There was quite a bit about The Boyfriend App that did not work so well for me as a reader. For instance, the opening scene in which Audrey is bullied by ex-BFF Blake in front of a full cafeteria of students, as well as the scene later in the novel where Blake torments Audrey at a bowling alley, were disorienting. Although toward the end we learn a bit more about Blake’s reasons for being cruel, I found Blake’s complete and utter hatred of Audrey baffling so early in the novel. It felt like Sise was falling back on easy, familiar stereotypes in place of real character development.

In the same vein, I find it hard to believe that Audrey would be unpopular when she probably looks like this Audrey. Srsly.
My biggest problem with this novel was that the plot took a serious turn for the weird halfway through. When the Boyfriend App 1.0 proves unsuccessful, Audrey has to dig deep to develop version 2.0, and in the process discovers some shocking secrets that have consequences way beyond the walls of her high school. Although this was fully the second half of the book, it made me feel that The Boyfriend App was having an identity crisis. For me, the novel would have felt more cohesive without this unnecessary plot twist – say, if it had simply chronicled Audrey’s development of the app, and the way the creation of the app and the prospect of winning the contest would change her life and relationships. This is what I was promised in the Goodreads summary, and it was frustrating to find myself so far from where the novel had started.

I generally found The Boyfriend App to be a respectable fiction debut from all-around creative lady Katie Sise. In spite of some failings with this book – overuse of teen stereotypes and a confusing plot twist smack dab in the middle – I would give a second novel by her a chance. I’m confident that the flaws of The Boyfriend App are simply those of an unpracticed fiction author, and that the next time Sise decides to try her hand at fiction, it will be with a better grasp of scope and characterization, and considerably more polish.

What do you think, readers? Am I being too harsh? Do you wish you could download the Boyfriend App for yourself? Let me know in the comments! 



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