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How to Be Bad

Review

How to Be Bad

David Levithan and Rachel Cohn's wonderful collaborative novel, NICK AND NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST (soon to be a major motion picture), was one of my favorite books of 2006 --- and not just because I share a first name with one of the protagonists. The creative interplay between two talented young adult authors made for a dynamic, exciting reading experience, and it appeared that Levithan and Cohn enjoyed writing the book as much as I enjoyed reading it.

Apparently I wasn't the only one whose imagination was captured by Levithan and Cohn's collaborative experiment. Three of young adult literature's other talented writers --- E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski and Lauren Myracle --- were inspired to try their own hands at a similar project after reading NICK AND NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST. The result? HOW TO BE BAD, a collaborative novel in which three very different girls --- their voices created by three very different authors --- set out on a most unusual road trip through the wilds of Florida.

Jesse, Vicks and Mel all work at a Waffle House in Central Florida. Jesse and Vicks are best friends who tell each other everything --- or almost everything. In fact, as the story opens, Jesse is hiding a devastating secret from Vicks and everyone else. The pressure of holding in such awful news is setting Jesse on edge, bringing her Christian conservative values even more to the surface (this is a girl who says "bad-bottom" instead of "badass," for example).

Constantly being criticized for taking the Lord's name in vain is driving Vicks crazy, especially since she is already stressed about beginning a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend Brady, who has just started as a freshman at the University of Miami. Brady hasn't called and barely texted her since leaving for college. Has he already forgotten about his girlfriend back home?

When Jesse and Vicks hatch a plan to drive to Miami to surprise Brady, their plot lacks one little detail --- neither one has any money to speak of. That's where Mel comes in. A quiet girl who wears $400 jeans, drives a BMW and lives in a huge suburban house, Mel, who has recently moved to Florida from Canada, is secretly lonely. When she hears about Vicks and Jesse's road trip plans, Mel offers to come along and pick up the tab for the trip's expenses. Grudgingly, Jesse, who has a chip on her shoulder about being poor, agrees to let Mel tag along. But can these three very different girls survive a statewide road trip without ripping each other's hair --- or hearts --- out?

HOW TO BE BAD is a classic road trip novel, moving at interstate speeds through the highways and byways of central and southern Florida, visiting quirky tourist traps both real and imaginary. The action shifts rapidly from the poignant --- Mel's desperate drunken attempts to seduce a gorgeous stranger, Vicks's believable insecurity in the face of her boyfriend's distance --- to the ridiculous. But even the most over-the-top circumstances, from hunkering down through a hurricane to escaping a hungry mama alligator, all work together to cement the girls' rapidly growing and changing friendship.

Readers familiar with the work of these three writers will enjoy trying to guess which character was created by which author (the answer is revealed in the back of the book). Aspiring writers will also be interested to read the opening authors' note about their writing process, and may even be inspired --- just like Lockhart, Mylnowski and Myracle were --- to try a collaborative project of their own.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 1, 2008

How to Be Bad
by E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, and Lauren Myracle

  • Publication Date: April 21, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTeen
  • ISBN-10: 0061284246
  • ISBN-13: 9780061284243