Laura Martinelli's Reviews > English as a Second Language

English as a Second Language by Megan Crane
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Sep 05, 11

bookshelves: chick-lit, library-reread

For me, picking up books to read can go several ways. There are the books that I love and adore and written by authors whom I love and adore. On the opposite end, there are books that look interesting, but when I get past a certain point, there’s the growing realization that the book is not what I’ve expected. And then there’s books like this, where I initially really like it, but subsequent rereads give me a noticeably bad taste. Such is the case with English as a Second Language.

Aside from the fact that this features almost every irksome detail in chick (including both a gay and married best friend), I just hate how everything’s presented in this. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to sympathize with Alex, as she just comes off as a whiny, immature bitch who’s assured that her problems are not due to anything she’s done, she just has a tendency to attract clingy, whiny, uncreative people. The whole set-up of the book is based around Alex’s quarter-life crisis over an ex-boyfriend who keeps trying to make her jealous. (The only time I felt sympathetic toward her was her realization of “Oh, God what have I gotten myself into?” when she arrives in England.)

Anyone who does not automatically befriend Alex with cigarettes and alcohol are promptly labeled as hateful trolls who are beneath her. This is really egregious with the other two American characters. Alex is charming and witty in her American-ness and wins over three Brits and her Spanish roommate. Suzanne and George are mean-spirited, stick-up-their-asses, ginger trolls who are out to ruin Alex’s fun. George’s subplot involves his relationship with another student, whom Alex and her friends quickly label as the “VULTURE.” Suzanne has no characterization beyond the Clingy Jealous Girl who automatically picks Alex out for competition in both romance and academia. (Which is hysterical, because Suzanne actually calls Alex out on her bullshit, and yet, we’re supposed to still revile Suzanne for doing this.) Even every other woman who shows up in the book is supposed to hate Alex. Alex’s female professor hates her and is out to humiliate Alex in every class; however, professor Sean is a combination of the Brooding Byronic Hero Trinity (Heathcliff! Rochester! DARCY! *swoon*) and is potential love interest. (Nevermind that he’s also kind of an asshole.) Not to mention, Alex pegs Sean’s unnamed love interest as unattractive, but that’s probably okay, because attractive British woman are unattractive by American standards. (..I…I don’t even.)

(Side tangent: I hate the attitude toward British culture in this. If someone uses a British colloquialism or wants tea, OMG THEY ARE TRYING TOO HARD TO BE BRITISH. Because some Americans don’t prefer tea to coffee. Or use British slang. But again, Alex just loves giving someone the V and using the phrase ‘pissed.’ Also, Brits can't appreciate good American rock'n'roll; instead, they listen to POP MUSIC. The horror.)

The problem this book has is that it’s got an unsympathetic lead character. Am I supposed to sympathize with Alex because she had a bad break-up (after admitting she lead the guy on)? Her quarter-life romantic crisis? The fact that she throws herself further into academia and manages to bs her way into a doctorate program? There’s a point near the end of the book where Alex goes “OMG I am such an immature bitch! And at my age! I need to start treating people better.” Aaand then she turns around and keeps making fun of George, without any inclination of feeling bad about it later.

Has Alex maybe wizened up earlier in the book and not remained a troll, I would have liked this a little bit more. Sure, it’s standard chick lit, but at least I don’t feel like reaching in and bitchslapping the heroine. The point of most chick lit is to make the main character a little sympathetic, so we can root for her. Being a wiseass is fine, but not to the point where everyone else is beneath her.
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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

So...I'm trying to be British when I'm jonesing for tea? And y'know, every time I get twitchy and hotheaded --- or when I'm knackered? Huh. And here I thought I was just being ....me.

(Uh, Sex Pistols? Clash? Pixies? More modern: Destroyer? Emmy The Great? The Temps? What way does England have no rock?)

And have you've missed the point that Darcy, Rochester, and Heathcliff were all asses, thus his assholey-ness is the point. (This is me labouring under a delusion. A lovely rose-coloured delusion)


Laura Martinelli You know my feelings on the Brooding Byronic Trinity, or at least the perceptions thereof.


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