Google+ YA Romantics: Just Finished Reading: manicpixiedreamgirl by Tom Leveen

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Just Finished Reading: manicpixiedreamgirl by Tom Leveen

by Tom Leveen
To be published by Random House Children's Books
on April 23, 2013

Source: bought

Buzzwords: male friendships, drama club, unattainable girl

Connect with the author: website : Facebook : Twitter.

Summary (from Goodreads:) Seventeen-year-old Tyler Darcy's dream of being a writer is starting to feel very real now that he's sold his first short story to a literary journal. He should be celebrating its publication with his two best friends who've always had his back, but on this night, a steady stream of texts from his girlfriend Sydney keep intruding. So do the memories of his dream girl, Becky, who's been on his mind a little too much since the first day of high school. Before the night is over, Ty might just find the nerve to stop all the obsessing and finally take action. 
This will be a review but also a discussion of Manic Pixie Dream Girls in general. If you just want the review, skip down...

The term "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" was reportedly coined by film critic Nathan Rabin in his 2007 review of Elizabethtown. The MPDG, as described by Rabin,

exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition. Audiences either want to marry her instantly (despite The Manic Pixie Dream Girl being, you know, a fictional character) or they want to commit grievous bodily harm against them and their immediate family. 

Well, slot me into category #2. I mean, I don't wish to commit grievous bodily harm on any MDPG (except maybe Phoebe from Friends) but I do think that most fictional MPDGs range in their appeal from monotonous to irritating.

I love people (and characters) who aren't afraid to be different. But the problem with most MPDGs is that they are just pointlessly and superficially quirky. Quirk is not character. That kind of quirk is usually, if not always, a defense mechanism. A persona. A mask.

Have you seen Bein' Quirky with Zooey Deschanel on Saturday Night Live? It kind of sums up my annoyance with Pointless Random Quirkiness. There's another episode with Drew Barrymore -- Kristen Wiig's impersonation of her is spot-on hilarious. 

Then my friend Samantha (fanofasymmetry) told me about Manic Pixie Prostitute, a short video directed by Adam Sacks and written by Leila Cohan-Miccio. It's about a guy who hires a hooker to "turn my life upside down with your whimsical joie de vivre." Funny stuff.

Okay, so back to the book. Karen from FWIW Reviews tweeted that it was one of her favorites of the year. I trust Karen, so I got the book. And I liked it. What Manicpixiedreamgirl does well is that it delves beneath the exterior of an unattainable girl to find the real person underneath.

Manicpixiedream girl is a short (241 page), self-contained, character-driven story about a boy who drifts into a relationship he's not that into because he can't bring himself to reach out to the girl he's really interested in.

The book switches between the past and the present, between the aftermath of Tyler's short story being published and his prior encounters with Becky. Tyler is a writer --- an observer --  and he watches Becky obsessively. The flashback sections do start in a  different typeface, but once or twice I did get a little confused about what time I was in. And at times, I wondered if the whole conceit of the short story was even necessary-- why not just write a book about a guy who's in a relationship with one girl and in love with another. But by the end of the book, I'd decided thatTyler's story shows Becky how he sees her, which offers a sense of poignancy and hope as the story resolves.

The characters -- and especially the female ones -- in Manicpixiedream girl are drawn with both subtly and precision. There's Tyler's girlfriend Sydney, the efficient, go-getter who is often superficially written in YA books and movies as the high-achieving student council type. But I got the feeling that, deep-down, Sydney is just as bewildered about her relationship with Tyler as he is. That Sydney decided to make Tyler her boyfriend for the same reason that she gets good grades and participates in debate: because that's what she thinks she's supposed to do.

For much of the book, Becky is a bit of an enigma. In fact I really wouldn't call her a true MPDG at all. She's a talented actress, quiet and kind of a loner. As Tyler gets to know her, he finds out some things about her that would be off-putting to a lot of guys. But he doesn't give up on her. He needs to know why. What he finds out is heartbreaking, and mostly so because it's told with matter-of-factness, not melodrama.

Thanks, Karen. I really enjoyed this one. And I think you will too if you love contemporary YA and/or character-driven stories.

Tell me in comments: can you see the appeal of MPDGs? If so, who are your favorites? And if you're interested in this, be sure to keep tabs on Freebie Friday -- it will be offered up in the next few weeks!


  1. I always think of Drew Barrymore at the MPDG. That flighty - live life to the fullest, yet troubled kind of girl that you can't help but root for.

    I agree with you that I didn't think Becky was a true MPDG. Only because no one else saw her the way Tyler did. But I guess she was that kind of girl to him.

    It's interesting that you mentioned Sydney. I found her really interesting. She wasn't' the stereotypical jealous girlfriend. She's intelligent and wants more for her and Tyler but settles for less.

    I'm glad you liked it Jen.

    1. I love Drew, and I think that she does show the kind of MPDG that I like. And I really felt for Sydney. She wasn't a bad person, just as confused as everyone else.

  2. Your thoughts on what "quirky" is are interesting. But when I think of quirky characters, I don't just think of ones like Phoebe from Friends, but like Uncle Big in The Sky is Everywhere or Malachi Wolfe in the Bloodlines series. Anyway, I generally like those type of characters in the books I read, especially when they are quirky secondary characters (you know my thing for secondaries:)

    I've never heard that term 'manicpixiedreamgirl" before, but now I am all curious about it! I'll have to do some more research on my own:)

    This book's synopsis kinda sounds like a hundred other contemp. YA books I've read recently, but your review has made me think twice about it:)

    1. I should clarify in the review. I LOVE "not afraid to be different" characters, because I think that comes out of strength of character. Or maybe just not caring what other people think.

      What irritates me is the pointless, superficial quirky -- which is I think what the movie critic was objecting to in the film.

  3. I really love contemporary YA so that's a plus for me although I don't generally care for the MPDG either. She's so often just a contrivance to push growth on a male character and I like female characters with depth.

    1. Well, Becky does force the main character to grow, but in the right way -- i.e. he sees her as a three-dimensional person with problems and flaws, not just an object of his obsession.

  4. I can't watch the video's cause I'm in the UK! How odd! Not sure I get all the symbolism but I do like contemporary ya so maybe I should give this a go!

  5. I have never heard of this term before. I really like this post though. I have to say that Zooey Dechanel and Drew Barrymore fit the quirky persona well. I absolutely adore them.

    1. I love Drew. I don't think I've ever seen Zooey in anything...

  6. Never heard of this but sounds like something I might like. I like quirky characters lol. Great review!

  7. Hehe...I LOVE quirky. Zooey is awesome...I adore New Girl. :) I just wish I could let my quirky out a little more. :P I only know about this book because I saw it up on NG, I think, but it sounds pretty good. I just recently read another story where a guy and girl ended up together because it was the thing to do, even though he had feelings for someone else, so I'd like to see how that plays out in this novel and then compare.

    1. IDK -- quirky on sit-coms rarely works for me, with the exception of Big Bang Theory.

      And yeah, tell me the name of that other novel! Because I do think that people drift into relationships and then get stuck there sometimes. It's a good premise ;)

  8. I tried to get this one from NetGalley, but didn't get approved. Such a bummer! I definitely will be reading this one. Love the videos! That is a fabulous Drew Barrymore impersonation!!!

    So, I love some quirky characters and really dislike others. I don't know exacty what it is. Maybe some of them have pet peeves I don't like or maybe some come off more superficial than others. In fact, I think it does come down to how real they feel and I don't think this is just for quirky characters. If a character feels fake to me, I generally don't like them, but if they're down-to-earth real, then I do. :) Although, I guess some characters do just bother me if they're too loud and obnoxious.

    Tressa @ Tressa's Wishful Endings

    1. My family relentlessly mocks me for my Girl Crush on Kristen Wiig. She's just amazing.

      And I agree with you. I think superficial characters aren't that great. When MPDG is as one dimensional as Mean Cheerleader, she's just not interesting.

  9. Maybe I will have to read this one? I have always fell into Category #2 myself with the MPDG but if this book is breaking the mold...

    The thing about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is that she is MANIC. In real life, you would take these girls to counseling. In the movies and books, they continue to sprinkle these girls in glitter and whisper about how we'll never understand their special souls. The MPDG problem is that they are always one step over TOO MUCH.

    End Rant.

    1. Ooh, interesting point.
      Well, I think Becky (I just don't think that name fits a MPDG!) does need someone to talk to, but I wouldn't call her manic.
      My favorite MPDG is Holly Golightly (in the book, NOT the movie, which does exactly what you say -- it takes Holly and makes her this Sparkly Princess of Quirk, when really she has a bunch of serious issues.)

  10. This was an educational post. Thanks for that. I've never heard of the term MPDG, but I know exactly who you're talking about. However, I'm not sure I'm that interested in this book as a whole. All the flashbacks sound tiresome. That is another feature I try to avoid in mass quantity. Thanks for this review, though. I knew nothing about this book or concept before, and you always add really interesting points!

  11. I had zero interest in this book until your review, Jen, so thank you! I admit to dismissing it as the magical trope you so thoughtfully discuss here too, but it's good to hear that this is handled well. Adding it to my TBR list!

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

  12. Very interesting. I didn't think that this book could be for me, but your review tells me otherwise.

  13. I think this book is my style. Also, Manic Pixie Prostitute is the best thing I've seen in a while.


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