by Gretchen McNeil
Published by Balzer + Bray
on October 18, 2016
Source: eARC for review
Synopsis from Goodreads: Beatrice Maria Estrella Giovannini has life all figured out. She's starting senior year at the top of her class, she’s a shoo-in for a scholarship to M.I.T., and she’s got a new boyfriend she’s crazy about. The only problem: All through high school Bea and her best friends Spencer and Gabe have been the targets of horrific bullying. So Bea uses her math skills to come up with The Formula, a 100% mathematically guaranteed path to social happiness in high school. Now Gabe is on his way to becoming Student Body President, and Spencer is finally getting his art noticed. But when her boyfriend Jesse dumps her for Toile, the quirky new girl at school, Bea realizes it's time to use The Formula for herself. She'll be reinvented as the eccentric and lovable Trixie—a quintessential manic pixie dream girl—in order to win Jesse back and beat new-girl Toile at her own game. Unfortunately, being a manic pixie dream girl isn't all it's cracked up to be, and “Trixie” is causing unexpected consequences for her friends. As The Formula begins to break down, can Bea find a way to reclaim her true identity and fix everything she's messed up? Or will the casualties of her manic pixie experiment go far deeper than she could possibly imagine?My take: I've read all of Gretchen McNeil's books and there are always aspects of them that I enjoy. She has a lively, funny writing style and is always switching up genres.
I'm Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl had its appealing points, but also some things I didn't enjoy. At times, this book felt to me like a bunch of classic movies (Mean Girls, Election, Garden State, Clueless, Revenge of the Nerds...) thrown into a blender.
There were two main plot strands: 1) a romantic "win the guy back" plot, and 2) a plot about Beatrice trying to win a college scholarship by developing a mathematical formula by which high school nerds can reinvent themselves. At times the two plots worked together, as when Beatrice reinvented herself as MPDG "Trixie" to win her guy back, but at other times I thought these two plots moved on parallel tracks.
Beatrice was, for the most part, hard for me to relate to. Yes, she's smart and good at math, which is great, but she's also not the nicest person around. She schemes and she plots. She's bossy and egotistical and judgmental. She has no female friends, which is always a red flag for me in real life. At times, she treats the people she cares about like pawns. I have nothing against complex female characters or even borderline unlikeable ones, but I'm not sure these kinds of characters work well in a rom com. (Unrelated aside: just watched My Best Friend's Wedding, in which Julia Roberts plays a character very similar to Beatrice. I like the movie, but the people I was watching with were horrified and thought it was up there with the worst rom coms of all time.)
The romance also had its problematic elements. As the story starts, Beatrice is madly in love with Jesse. I guess the blah-ness of their love connection made sense in the end, but I felt that too much of the story was about her trying to get him back. I didn't get what she saw in Jesse or why she wanted him back after he dumped her. (To be fair, I'm really not a fan of the "winning back the guy who dumped you" plots because ... why? Why do you want to grovel and connive and get back a guy who didn't appreciate you? Find a better guy!) Plus, sticking with the "I love Jesse/I hate Toile" plot for so long meant that s much more interesting and appealing romantic plot got smashed into the last few pages.
I also didn't love the fact that all the characters in this book start off as stereotypes (the math nerd, the popular girl, the gay best friend, the slutty divorcee, the cheating ex-husband, and, of course, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.) Yes, all of these characters do finally break out of their stereotypes, but that happened at about the 90% mark on my kindle. Plus, I felt that the book's message on self-acceptance was all over the place. You should be yourself. But if your family moves a lot, it's okay to reinvent yourself. If you reinvent yourself, you might be elected class president (I seriously doubt that). Or you might make everyone hate you and lose all your friends.
By the end, "Trixie" learns her lesson about being nice and being herself and getting the (right) guy. But getting there was a bit of a bumpy ride! For this type of story, I would have preferred a more satisfying romance and a main character I could root fo.