Teen Idol, by Meg Cabot

It’s not that Meg Cabot’s most recent young adult novel Teen Idol is a bad book. On the contrary, it is a clever, entertaining, and occasionally thought-provoking read. If Teen Idol had been written by an unknown author, I would have been thrilled to discover it and immediately passed it around to all of my friends. It’s just that this is Meg Cabot, Queen of the smart and snarky teen book scene, and she can do so, so much better.

Teen Idol is the story of seventeen-year-old Jen Greenley, Clayton High School’s go-to girl for advice and sympathy. Jen is so kind and mature that not only do her classmates regard her as their personal guru, but the school administrators have given her the post of anonymous advice columnist for the school paper. When crisis strikes (in the form of teen film star Luke Striker’s top-secret visit to research a role) the school bigwigs decide that Jenny is the perfect person to show Luke the ropes. Luke’s visit triggers Jen’s transformation from thoughtful, empathetic person who cleans up everyone’s emotional messes… to thoughtful, empathetic person who interferes before everyone’s emotional messes get out of hand. Along the way, she discovers the power of real popularity, which (cue the violins!) can only be earned through kindness.

As dramatic arcs go, it’s not exactly mind-blowing.

The biggest problem with Teen Idol is its completely implausible heroine. Jen isn’t just a good kid--she’s downright saintly. She has smothered her own feelings, befriended the unlikable, and devoted hours to fixing relationships. Even after Jen’s Big Plot Revelation (here’s the condensed version: she adds name-taking and ass-kicking to her long list of communication skills) she continues to use her powers for good. Ms. Cabot has written about unusually competent, empathetic teens before (particularly Suze, the heroine of the Mediator series) but her earlier characters balanced out all that ability and civic-mindedness with some very believable teenage self-absorption.

It is a tribute to Ms. Cabot’s talent that despite the book’s impossible-to-swallow main character, Teen Idol is still worth your hard-earned $15.99. Jenny’s voice is pure Cabot: smart, self-deprecating, and funny as hell. The book’s supporting characters (with the exception of Luke Striker, who never evolves beyond McGuffin-status) are interesting and distinctive, and Cabot dissects the various approaches to teenage popularity in a thoughtful but non-preachy way.

While Teen Idol is fun but flawed, fans can always hope for a sequel that would right this book’s characterization wrongs. Meg Cabot has always been cheerfully upfront about her need for piles of money, so if this book sells well enough it’s quite likely that she’ll pony up with another. (After all, now she has two house payments.) My hope is that in the next book, Jenny will be tempted by the darker side of wielding her popularity like a club. I, for one, would really enjoy seeing some Don Coreleone to balance out her inner Ann Landers.
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


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