this book is unspeakably, horrifically terrible. it makes me regret having been such a tough grader on every other book i have ever read, because if any book was ever deserving of a single star, it is this one. actually, if i could give negative stars, i would. i have read a lot of awful books in my day, but this one truly may be literally the worst book EVER WRITTEN.
full disclosure: i totally watch "america's next top model". i have seen every single episode of all 17 cycles at least once. at this point, i kind of feel like "top model" has taken me hostage & is holding me in an undisclosed location, since the last ten seasons have been so awful, but i still watch. & that's why i read this book: because i find tyra to be so fucking crazy & i was morbidly curious to see what her attempt at a dystopic YA novel (about modeling! & it's basically sci-fi as well! what the fuck is going on?) was going to be like.
because i have watched so much "top model," i feel like i am pretty well-versed in many of tyra's major modeling pet peeves. for example, she hates dancers. every time there's a girl on the show who has trained as a dancer, tyra complains that they are posing like dancers in their photos, as opposed to models. only one girl with significant dance training has ever won "top model" (naima, cycle four). she also complains constantly about how models have to be at the top of their games because more & more magazines are putting actresses on their covers instead. tyra has a real disdain for actresses, perhaps stemming from the fact that she tried to make it as an actress & flopped. she also berates the girls whenever they have to pose with male models, telling them not to let the men outshine them in photos--or even look equally as good. female models are paid far more more money & have far more working opportunities than male models. tyra is quick to tell the girls that in the world of modeling, men are one more accessory within a shot. she signs all of her correspondence to the girls "fierce & love, tyra," & she never misses an opportunity to explain that she started modeling in paris at age 15 even though some people thought she was weird-looking--too tall & gangly with an enormous forehead. all of these elements pop up over & over again in the book.
her gangly weird-looking history has inspired what seems to be her primary goal with "top model": promoting a kind of beauty that is different than what one might expect from the modeling industry. she has given the top prize to weirdly boxy flat-chested girls (yoanna, who did indeed have an amazing face), short girls (eva & nicole from cycle 13--the petite cycle), girls with gaps between their teeth (danielle--even though tyra attempted to strong-arm danielle into having the gap closed by a cosmetic dentist, only to turn around nine cycles later & send another contestant to the dentist to have her gap enlarged), various girls of color (teyona, naima was mixed race, danielle, jaslene, krista, saleisha, etc), a plus-sized girl (whitney, who couldn't model her way out of a paper bag), & even ugly girls (ann--she was so monstrous that she actually hurt my eyes).
the theme of modelland seems to be that anyone can be beautiful, even if they are really short (but, you know, still slim & traditionally gorgeous), chubby (but tall & gorgeous), albino (but tall, slim, & gorgeous), or a mary sue stand-in for tyra herself (main protagonist tookie delacreme, who is darker-skinned, with wild untameable hair, skinny, gawky, & tall, with big eyes & a wide mouth, not to mention an absolutely insufferable self-esteem problem).
you see where i am going with this? tyra suggests that her book is a story about empowerment for young girls. tookie & her unusual-looking comrades are admitted to the modelland academy on top of the mountain when an intoxibella (tyra's obnoxious word for supermodel)-turned-scout goes off-script & specifically chooses strange-looking girls to admit, in an effort to change worldwide standards of beauty. but the girls are only strange in that they are short or chubby or albino. in every other way, they are stunningly beautiful. & ci-L (the intoxibella/scout--isn't that name just awful?) is harshly punished for her transgressions. she is forced to repeat the first year of modelland training, despite having graduated & gone on to being the toast of the fashion industry. one of her weirder punishments is being forced to attend classes in a too-small uniform. honestly, the scenes in which ci-L's snug uniform are described read like straight up pornography. i feel like i got more insight into the twisted mind of tyra banks than i ever wanted by reading this book.
i guess i should recap the plot a little bit: so, the world-building in this book completely fucking blows, but as far as i could gather, it's some kind of future or alternate universe in which models are the only celebrities & have an incredible amount of control & persuasion over the general populace. each year, seven new intoxibellas graduate from modelland. every girl is eligible for admission to modelland. they must simply walk in this big weird day of discovery event that happens every year & be chosen by a scout. their chances are boosted if they discover a smize, which is some kind of weird eye mask thing. tookie doesn't even bother to hope she'll be chosen. but her little sister has been groomed for modelland since birth, basically.
tookie's self-esteem is non-existent. she completely hates herself & doesn't think she is worth anything. why? because she feels that she is unattractive & therefore unlovable. what a totally awesome message for young girls! especially because tookie's journey of transformation (such as it is) hinges on discovering that she is beautiful & is therefore lovable! this is fucked up. this is SO fucked up.
tookie is selected over her sister on the day of discovery, along with her slightly off-brand cohorts. they are constantly picked on up at the school because no one thinks they are pretty enough to be there. they wonder if they were only selected in order to be experimented upon or perhaps sacrificed, because i guess there are stories about these kinds of things happening at the school. gee, i can see why everyone wants to go there. there's a brother academy made up of staggeringly attractive bro-hunks who mostly wander around doing maintenance work on the girls' school, giving them lots of opportunities to perspire shirtlessly. one of the dude models falls for tookie & they have an illicit romance (as modelland girls are not to fraternize with the men). tookie investigates ci-L's punishments & discovers something about some dead girls & ci-L taking the blame for them. she becomes convinced that ci-L is a crazy lady who is going to kill tookie & her friends.
so, tookie & her friends decide they have to escape. & then they do. (you see how little dramatic tension i'm putting into this recap? there's perhaps even less in the book.) two seconds after they escape, ci-L comes after them. after a really inconsequential chase scene in which tookie briefly reconnects with her one friend from home, lizzie (a homeless girl with mental health issues who is constantly self-injuring, despite tookie's mild requests that she stop), ci-L explains that she is actually looking out for them, has no plans to kill them, is trying to show that modelland can accept all forms of beauty (provided of course that it is beautiful! because that's what matters!), & needs to get them back to school before anyone realizes they're gone. the girls are like, "oh. cool. let's jet."
god, this book sucks.
& then--surprise! tookie's mother & sister have managed to scale the mountain & break into the school. they are the first people to have ever managed this, since the mountain is fraught with all kinds of dangers, like a loch ness monster-esque creature made up of dismembers arms & legs that eats people, & sentient fireballs that track & kill people. tookie's mother, creamy, demands to see the primabella or whatever the fuck the leader of this school is called. & then it all comes out: creamy was once a student at modelland. the primabella was her best friend, & the primabella's current right hand woman, persimmon, who has been cursed to a life as a living plastic mannequin, was their other best pal. the primabella was decsended from modelland royalty. & she turned up pregnant. but she didn't know it until she gave birth into a toilet, because one of modelland's superpowers is apparently to make it so no girl gets a period & pregnancies don't show. the father is some random cobbler dude from back home. the primabella gets into big trouble with her mom. persimmon tries to help & is turned into a mannequin for her trouble. the primabella & creamy bust out of modelland to go see the primabella's sweetheart & baby & become instantly wrinkled for their transgressions. back at the cobbler's place, the primabella is like, "i don't care about being an intoxibella! i will stay here all wrinkled with you & our baby!" & the cobbler is like, "that sounds good to me!" the primabella then goes out for milk & when she does, creamy runs it & tries to bone the cobbler. he's all, "HALP!" & the primabella walks in & thinks her man is cheating with her friend. she won't listen to her protests. she & creamy return to the school, where they are in BIG TROUBLE for leaving. the primabella's mom offers to take away primabella's wrinkles if she agrees never to see the cobbler or her baby again. primabella is like, "do it. he's a cheating hound dog." creamy then asks to have her wrinkles reversed & primabella mommy refuses. primabella junior refuses to intercede on her behalf & creamy is kicked out of school. before she goes, she's like, "by the by, i totally molested your man & he really loves you! kthnxbai!" the primabella is devastated that she chose her beauty over the true love of a man & their baby, but her mom says the decision is final. & to top it off, ci-L was the baby in question. all is revealed & then the primabella & creamy are put in modelland prison forever. ci-L takes over the school. tookie's sister gets lost in catwalk corridor, i guess to be scratched by models that have been turned into cats forevermore (yeah, that's really in the book).
i guess the moral here is something about being true to your friends & not sacrificing your career for a man (another one of tyra's big passions), but as you can see, IT MAKES NO FUCKING SENSE.
& the writing. oh, the writing. it couldn't be any worse. one of tookie's friends comes from a dimly-lit country called canne del abra. the very first page includes the line, "the fog lifted like a push-up bra." there are a gazillion other terrible lines or names (i think tyra was going for a harry potter-esque "the names have a hidden meaning" thing, but she was just way too obvious &/or cloying with everything), but i have blocked them out because this book gave me some weird form of PTSD.
the worst part of all of this is that this is only the first book is a trilogy! NOOOOOO WHHYYYYYYY i doubt the reality of a merciful god! this book is UNSPEAKABLY BAD. i feel that everyone who has read it should come together to file a class-action lawsuit against the publishers. i know i suffered much emotional distress & deserve some kind of compensation. i know that every time i write a terrible review, a few masochistic people who follow my reviews go out & read the books to see if it's really that bad. PLEASE don't do that this time. this book actually caused me REAL SUFFERING. learn from my mistakes, i beg of you!