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The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project

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Riley lives in TropeTown, where everyone plays stock roles in novels. Riley, a Manic Pixie Dream Boy, is sent to group therapy after going off-script. Riley knows that breaking the rules again could get him terminated, yet he feels there must be more to life than recycling the same clichés for readers' entertainment. Then he meets Zelda, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (Geek Chic subtype), and falls head over heels in love. Zelda's in therapy too, along with several other Manic Pixies. But TropeTown has a dark secret, and if Riley and his fellow Manic Pixies don't get to the bottom of it, they may all be terminated.

272 pages

First published March 5, 2019

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Lenore Appelhans

8 books688 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 135 reviews
Profile Image for Lenore Appelhans.
Author 8 books688 followers
September 26, 2018
This is a meta-fiction romantic comedy about redefining the labels we're given - on our own terms. It's about looking beyond the stereotype and getting to know the actual person. It's about writing and the writing process and the magic and the frustration and the courage to step up and be the main character in your own story. It's a satire of YA tropes with the utmost affection for the category. It's my favorite thing I've ever written, and I can't wait for you to read it.

Why, yes! I do have a book playlist.

Machine - MisterWives
Ladies Don't Play Guitar - Tennis
I Am Chemistry - Yeasayer
REALiTi - Grimes
Cigarette Daydreams - Cage the Elephant
Read My Mind - The Killers
Poet - Bastille
Engine Driver - The Decemberists
My Mistakes Were Made for You - The Last Shadow Puppets
Lose It - Oh Wonder
I'm Not Your Hero - Tegan and Sara
Out of My League - Fitz & The Tantrums
You Are a Tourist - Death Cab for Cutie
Ready to Start - Arcade Fire
Bang - Tori Amos
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful - Florence + the Machine
Profile Image for Katie Hanna.
Author 6 books106 followers
March 22, 2020
this. this is good book.

The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project tells the story of the Tropes who inhabit the happy world of Trope Town, among them:

a) Manic Pixie Dream Girl Geek Chic,
b) MPDG Freaky Chic,
c) MPDG Wild Child,
d) MPDG Bubbly Badass,
e) Manic Pixie Dream Boy (rare!),
f) MPDG Beautiful Mess, and ...

... you get the picture by now, yes?

Fictional characters, and robotic, pre-programmed Tropes at that, these kids have never been afforded the complexity and dynamic growth of a Central Developed. But they want what the Central Developeds have. They want their freedom, baby! They're tired of working at the Authors' beck and call. Tired of trudging through the same dead-end roles in the same stale novels, year after year, with nary an independent character arc in sight. They're about to break the most sacred rule of Trope Town. They're about to shake off the Authors' control ... and write their own endings.

#tip my hat to the new constitution #take a bow for the new revolution


The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project is extremelyyyyyyyyyy "meta," an author commenting on herself and other authors through the voice of a fictional character who KNOWS they're fictional. The irony is LAYERED, folks. I could see some readers finding it extremely slippery to grasp. However, and this is maybe because I'm a writer myself, I was grinning like an idiot through the whole thing. Absolutely in love with the whole concept. When Riley, our MPD Boy narrator, goes "What is this author doing, writing the scenes out of order again? Why can't she just sit her butt down in that chair and write straight through to the end?" I DIED.

Overall, a very clever send-up of fiction in general and YA fiction in particular; and since I love & devour YA at an alarming rate, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

I liked, too, the book's overall take on tropes: tropes aren't bad, per se. Less-than-fully-developed side characters aren't bad. It's how you use them that makes the difference. Do you allow them the possibility of an independent inner life, even if it's not on-page? Or do they ONLY exist to serve the protagonist's emotional development?

Also, the Extremely Valid Point is made that certain tropes have been (and continue to be) used as limits on our vision & our options in our own lives: to send the message that, "because this is all your representative character is allowed to be ON THE PAGE, this is all you're allowed to be IN REAL LIFE. you can never break free of the box." *grrrrrrrrowls*

It's very clean, too. There isn't any language, even. And no sex scenes. So if you're looking for a clean, fun, thought-provoking YA novel, I'd say this is it.

Profile Image for Samantha (WLABB).
3,379 reviews233 followers
March 7, 2019
Readers are often lamenting about "the tropes", and one that often takes a beating is the manic pixie dream girl. This was a fun exploration of the MPDGs and their token boy, as they set out on their quest to save and redefine their trope.

• Pro: I had a lot of fun reading this book. It was odd and quirky, and I found myself laughing and nodding as I recognized so many of these characters and their traits from the books I have read.

• Pro: I've read several of these meta type books, and for me, this was one of the stronger ones, because it actually had more plot than the others. I felt like I went through all the fun stuff with the topes, but I also got a pretty fleshed out world and a complete story.

• Pro: This wasn't all just laughs and poking fun at tropes. Applehans also explored the idea of being more than your label and paving your own way, and I enjoyed being part of Riley's journey to self-fulfillment.

• Pro: Don't get me wrong, I love each and every John Green book, but I did giggle when I recognized some of his MPDGs. For example: Nebraska, yeah, you who she's supposed to be.

• Con: There were a few times I thought the author was trying too hard, but at the same time, the information relayed was quite informative. So, not a total con.

• Pro: When I read the first therapy session, I kept envisioning that scene from Wreck It Ralph, when all the bad guys are sharing how they were bad, and "bad" for the characters in this book was how they deviated from their trope. I thought it was just as much fun, and really looked forward to the therapy sessions.

Overall: This was a super fun romp through Trope Town, which also challenged the reader to look beyond the labels.

*ARC provided in exchange for an honest review.

Profile Image for Jypsy .
1,523 reviews76 followers
January 29, 2019
What can I say about this book? The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project is definitely different from anything I've ever read. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. I liked the story for its oddness and quirkiness. It's about Riley. He's a MPDB trope in Tropetown. He is going to group therapy because he went off script. While there, he meets a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Turns out, the Manic Pixie Dream tropes are going to be retired. So, off they go to save the day. The story is everything I expected: ironic, typical, repetitive and satirical. Of course it's kind of ridiculous. It's supposed to be. I love the idea. I only wish the author would have given more space to Tropetown. It makes me think about Roger Rabbit going to Toon Town. Also, I didn't love the ending. It could have been a bit more tidy with some closure. Overall, I enjoyed the book. It's not for everyone, but if you want to read an ironic book about an ironic town, try this one. Thanks to NetGalley for an arc in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Mary Thompson.
Author 8 books120 followers
November 27, 2018
Lenore Appelhans has managed to create a book that both works on its own as a fun story about characters you care about and is also a clever sendup of YA tropes. This book will both entertain you and make you think. Just like Riley doesn’t have to helplessly accept his fate as a Manic Pixie Dream Boy, you don’t have to accept force-fed stereotypes. Get ready to change the way you think about every YA book you’ve ever read.
Profile Image for Lenore Kosinski.
2,291 reviews52 followers
December 9, 2019

I received a free copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review/opinion.

3.5 stars — I had a hard time getting sucked into this story, because I didn’t understand its purpose, or what it was trying to achieve, and so I held myself back from connecting with it. I’m kind of impatient like that. I think I was confused if this was going to be a romance, because it was very odd in the romance department and was kind of failing. I think if I’d known beforehand that it wasn’t a romance, but rather just had romance elements, I would have had an easier time. The story really is about the journey of Riley as he discovers himself and his world and what he wants for his life…just in a super strange world.

It was definitely very cleverly written. I appreciated all the little nods here and there to different tropes, how tropes can be misused, what they bring to a story, all sorts of different views. I loved the overall message of depth and uniqueness and how we’re all trying to figure out who we want to be, but especially teenagers. Like I said, it was very smart about a lot of things — using the tropes, but also stepping outside of those boundaries at times.

Riley was pretty easy to like, even if I didn’t always quite understand who he was or his motivations…I guess he didn’t either. Truthfully, I’m not all that familiar with this level of trope, and what exactly a Manic Pixie Dream Girl/Boy is. I figured it out through context, but it made me sit back and think about what characters *I* know from books I’ve read that would fit that description…and I’m still not sure.

Like I said, the romance left me feeling kind of cold, because I didn’t understand what drew him to Zelda or Ava. I believed in his crush, but I kept expecting development that didn’t happen. I was frustrated with Zelda’s mixed messages too. So I highly recommend going into this story knowing that it’s not a romance, and I think you’ll be much happier.

Another thing I think made this a more…confusing read is how it jumped all over the place, especially near the beginning. I was having a hard time getting a grasp on certain things, and then it felt like the story would go off on tangents…so, for me, it was hard to determine the theme.

In the end I definitely enjoyed myself, and I actually really LOVED where the story ended up and the messages it had for the reader. I’m a huge proponent of depth, uniqueness and diversity, so it wasn’t hard for me to fall in love with those messages. Before the ending, I might have rated this a 3 (or at least rounded down to a 3), but it really leveled up the story for me. It’s always nice when a book ends on a high!
Profile Image for CrowCaller.
227 reviews28 followers
January 19, 2019

(2 stars)

(I received this book for free for an honest review off of Netgalley)

I'm a little stumped on writing this review, hence my lack of attempt at coming up with a more snappy title. This is a very tricky book to review, on account of it being extremely meta about... books. And itself. Is it satire the plot, world, and characters are lacking? Is it on a winking purpose that the romance and story arc is so predictable and simple? Is the writing style meant to lampshade the meta nature of the story?

What I can say for certain is my own levels of interacting with it, and I didn't end up liking this book much. The meta nature makes it far harder for me to say 'this ain't a great book'. We'll see how I can best talk about this.

I think right off the back I should mention I LOVE- or, loved- tropes and trope critique. I was an avid reader of TVtropes in middle to high school, often browsing random pages of every piece of media I'd ever consumed, and being taken on wild tours of analysis. It was a lot of fun. Before that, I had a semi obsessive period with the mary sue archetype, reading an ENDLESS amount of meta about it. Some of the first writing I ever did when I was about ~10 was a trope-heavy satire fanfiction of Invader Zim. (Yes, it is with great fear I admit this fact openly).

So while 'contemporary YA' isn't my take (which is what this is, even if it is a heavy fantasy at the same time), I requested this book off Netgalley due to my interest in tropes and literary analysis. I don't really know what I expected- I was just intrigued by the fact such a weird, meta book was on offer that I requested it. I think when I saw I was approved I slightly regretted this choice, since I wasn't positive I'd actually enjoy the book. Luckily, it's a short read full of short chapters, so it moved quick enough.

Here's what the book is about: There's a world called Tropetown, where various instances of literary tropes live when they aren't 'on the job'. When an author in 'reader world' starts a book, they often hire tropes to fill in the story as extras and bit characters, compared to the 'developeds', AKA main characters with proper story arcs. Tropes who misbehave are sent to the Termination Train and never seen again.

Riley is a Manic Pixie Dream Boy, a variant of the dream girl. This is a very well known trope, but if you don't know it, it's the idea of a super quirky, weird girl who comes into a boring average guy's life to shake things up as a love interest, usually before then leaving/dying/whatever. It's a heavily critiqued trope, but has been very popular in the part (around the early 2000s mark).

Riley is sent to group therapy for being unhappy with his job. His best friend was terminated for unknown reasons, and he's tired of constantly playing the same bit characters with no development or story of their own in books. Therapy consists of a couple other pixie dream girls, including his love interest Zelda.

So, what can be said about this book? Riley works to think about his life and deal with therapy, all the while falling for Zelda (who he can't date because it's unclear if she likes him, and also in therapy patients aren't meant to date each other. He makes friends with some other pixies and also deals with the news the tropetown council is thinking of retiring the trope for good to the museum. He is currently in a novel and works to behave there.

I don't know, it's sort of a... strange slice of life? Slice of life, but it's life in a weird parody universe that is still written pretty much seriously. This book is light hearted, but rarely tries for humor, so I don't think it's meant to be funny. By the end, it's meant to be pretty serious, with a lot of messages about self-love and acceptance and forging your own path in life. To me, this meshes oddly with the very fictional, self-aware universe they all live in.

Things are. I suppose. Ludicrous? The world and characters are so over the top in their actions and existence, and yet mostly are talking about serious things. This is especially true about 3/4 into the book, where Riley and some friends visit the museum of past tropes, and... reflect earnestly and seriously about racist caricatures and story telling devices. A mention of problematic tropes like that perhaps have a place in a book ABOUT tropes, but are jarring when everything around it is extremely light-hearted and cheesy. The talk is pretty well handled, it was just a 'wow, am I really reading the term 'magical negro' right now? In this book?' moment.

The characters were difficult to evaluate because they were all... tropes. Still, part of the book is that they are more than tropes, and deserve a chance to be seen as full people, especially as manic pixies. This is probably true, but I still didn't any of the characters as particularly developed. Riley had the most sense and personality as the first person lead, but the group therapy pixies were very interchangeable, and the more developed of the supporting cast was still quite lacking. Most notable was Nebraska, someone who I thought was a one-off joke at 'Looking for Alaska', but turned out to be a very one-dimensional mean girl bully.

One of the strangest character choices is the on the side, entirely indiscernible love triangle going on at group therapy. For one, the therapist is involved (geez! that's not allowed!) (also I pictured her as 45 until she was suddenly dating two of the people in therapy). For another, it's something we really are just told about in two dramatic revelations, but I sure as hell didn't see any evidence to back that up. Therapist turns out to be the ex of Nebraska, and then is in a relationship with another girl in therapy right now. This is all around super weird. I suppose as tropes they are ageless and come into existence fully grown, but Therapist is a New Age Therapist trope, which implies maybe 30 at the youngest, and Manic Pixie Dream Girl is usually high school to early 20s. Even if it's not a 'real' age gap, it was super weird.

Also, not the most helpful that the relationship was only revealed to the main character as a secret, not something particularly noticeable to the reader. I mean, there's some mention of heteronormative standards and That's A Lot Of Bisexuals, but it stood out as a badly done, meaningless little subplot.

Tropes are easy to analyze. Books about tropes that may or may not be heavy handed and strange on purpose are near impossible.

This book wasn't that funny, or interesting. It was just sort of strange, or else too cheesy. It was something, alright. I don't know if it was for me. I don't even know if it is middle grade or YA. I don't know what genre this really is.

I got nothing.

It wasn't bad. But I couldn't call it good either.
June 8, 2020
My full review of The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project is up on Keeping Up With The Penguins.

The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project definitely goes out to all the word nerds and book geeks. The whole premise is a literary critique: Riley is a Manic Pixie Dream Boy, a sub-type of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. He lives in TropeTown where he hangs out with all the other trope characters until they’re summoned by an author for a role in a book.

I suppose it's technically a YA novel, but I would really resent it being pigeon-holed. I think this literary send-up would be a wonderful read for book lovers of all ages, guaranteed to delight, entertain, and provoke indiscriminately.
Profile Image for Brittany Lamb.
217 reviews34 followers
December 14, 2018
Note: Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a free, advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This is a really cute book that I was ultra excited to read when NetGalley approved me. I think that as readers, we all love to joke around about tropes and the overuse of certain ones (especially the manic pixie dream girl trope), but I never imagined a book centered entirely around them.

This book is kind of like one long play on words. Does that make sense? It’s written around a ton of ironic cute fluffiness. It’s a book about book characters… knowing that they are book characters (but not for this book, per se), who get “requested” from authors to be in a novel. Basically, the tropes are like actors, except instead of watching their work on the big screen, we get to read about it on the pages of our favorite books.

The whole idea was (sorry to use this word again but I’m lacking a better descriptive) cute. All of the little manic pixies were very manic pixie-ish and Riley (AKA the only manic pixie boy who also happens to be the character who stared in The Fault in Our Stars [though this is never explicitly said because I’m sure the author isn’t trying to get into trouble but it is very heavily insinuated]) falls in love with one of the girls (Zelda). Each trope gets a character description sheet and everyone pretty much fits into their stereotype. A trope comes into existence when needed by readers and authors, so the tropes aren���t developed beyond TropeTown.

So, yeah, it was all very cutesy. But also a little… confusing? Developeds (AKA narrators or POV characters) aren’t in TropeTown but they are still living. I think? But they just live in the story written for them… I think.

I guess the reason I didn’t click with this was because it was so ironic and trope-y. I mean, yeah, the book is about tropes but I swear you can only take so much of manic pixie “cuteness” before you’re incredibly over it. It was a really quick read though, so it’s not like it drags on. It just didn’t hold my attention.

It did touch on some pretty important topics, however. I wish these issues would’ve been featured more throughout the book instead of focusing so closely on the retirement of the manic pixie dream girl trope. For instance, at one point a couple of the characters got a lesson about racism and sexism that is often used in some tropes and why that shouldn’t be acceptable because it’s essentially a negatively fueled stereotype. I think that the goal was for the entire book to be about this lesson, but it fell short in that aspect to me because there wasn’t enough focus on it.

Overall, it’s not something I hated. If you like quick, fluffy, ironic stories, than I’d suggest you check it out! But it wasn’t really for me, sadly.

(I would like to now apologize for make you read the word “cute” so many times. I really don’t know how else to describe a story like this. It was overwhelmingly so)
Profile Image for Kristen Lippert-Martin.
Author 2 books125 followers
January 10, 2019
It is my opinion that Lenore Appelhans is a bit of a genius. Please see THE MANIC PIXIE DREAM BOY IMPROVEMENT PROJECT as proof of that assertion.

If you're a regular reader of YA, you'll no doubt get a kick out of the whole concept of these oft-used characters and tropes, all living in Trope Town, doing the bidding of their authors whether they agree with their tired plot lines or not. After all, "The author is always right."

And you'll read along, smiling and nodding, like "Yep, I've seen *that* character a million times," and "Yeah, THAT twist. Who didn't see that coming?" The next thing you know, you're sucked into the actual story, rooting for Riley and his fellow Manic Pixies, as they try to figure out how to grow past the very tropes that rule their lives.


It would be easy for a concept like this to descend into gimmickry and yet Appelhans employs the very tricks we've all come to know and love in YA so well, she still gets you hooked, invested, and cheering for a HEA.

Five stars to you, clever YA author lady. Well played.
Profile Image for Clara.
1,139 reviews87 followers
December 20, 2018
This is really hard to rate: there are some ways in which this VASTLY exceeded my expectations, but in other ways, I really wanted it to go further.
Profile Image for pdbkwm.
346 reviews35 followers
June 11, 2019
Even though I started this in May and only finished it now, that doesn't mean that this is a bad book. Ramadan happened and I always take a book reading break during that time.

With that out of the way, I have mixed feelings towards The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project. On one hand, it's a whimsical meta filled book that is all about tropes, writing and what characters in these novels are really up to. It reminded me a bit of Stranger than Fiction, in how the Author interacts with his/her MC.

But it mostly reminded me of the Emoji Movie. Wait. Just...let me explain.

The main premise of this novel is that tropes are more than just a set of generic characteristics. They can be developed into something so much more. A Manic Pixie can be a Manic Pixie, but they can also have other traits.

If you watched the Emoji Movie and made it to the end (congrats!), then you'll get what I mean when I'm saying that The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project has a similar premise. Thankfully, it's done a lot better here, which isn't that hard to do when you're being compared to the Emoji Movie.

The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project is a story about a Manic Pixie Dream Boy, Riley, who is dreaming of bigger things. However, this isn't allowed in Trope Town so he's forced to go into therapy with a bunch of other Manic Pixies so they can learn to follow the status quo and do their jobs properly.

During these sessions, Riley will fall in love with a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, while also develop a relationship with the MC of the story that he's currently working on, and figure out what happened to his friend, another Manic Pixie Dream Boy who went on the termination train. There's also a plot line about the Trope Town wanting to retire the Manic Pixie trope.

I feel like this is right up my alley and there are many things that I liked about this book. And yet, I feel like Lenore Appelhans could have gone further into the tropes that were displayed here. There were times when I felt like certain discussions were very on the nose, or even preachy. For example, there's one scene in the novel where the characters are talking about how the Magical Negro trope got retired and explains why these stereotypes can be hurtful to people who share the same skin colour.

It's a great point and as black person myself, I understand why these stereotypes and tropes can be hurtful when it makes people around you think you're like that. (The Muslim woman are abused trope is one I hate, because the amount of times I've been asked about this or had pitied looks when someone talks about this topic is outstanding.)

So I do like that the book tackled these issues, but at the same time the way it was done felt way too preachy.

I think my biggest issue with the novel is that I didn't really feel like Riley was a Manic Pixie Dream Boy. I liked him as our lead character and thought he was a fine, but as a Manic Pixie? Everyone else seemed quirky and free spirited, while he just liked pies.

I do like how the story tackled tropes and gave new life to the Manic Pixie Dream Boy/Girl and while I wish the author only scratched the surface of her idea, I do think it's an okay book.

Profile Image for Becca.
632 reviews55 followers
January 27, 2019
I received an e-ARC of The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review! Any quotes used in this review are from the ARC copy & may not be in the final book.

Be still my pixie heart.

I’m gonna be real with ya. this book is so stinkin’ cute. By accident, I picked it up last night & didn’t move until the very last page. & it wasn’t even because I was at the edge of my seat, but just because it was so cute & very fast-paced. I believe it only took me about 3 hours & 30 minutes to read. Quick reads are always good to add to the TBR, right?

The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project takes us deep into TropeTown; a place that resembles that of a cartoon — you know, bright sunny skies & perfect puffy clouds. In TropeTown lives Tropes, and to be more specific, lives the Manic Pixie Dream Girl & Boy Tropes.

For those who need a quick reminder on what the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is TV Tropes has your back —

Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists to help the protagonist achieve happiness without ever seeking any independent goals herself.

So, the plot of this book is pretty simple — Riley, a Manic Pixie Dream Boy is sent to group therapy for going off-script. Here, he meets & falls in love with Zelda, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It’s against the rules (– alot of things are against the rules in TropeTown) to date someone in therapy. Other things happen, we have a conflict, a climax, a solution & the end.

As soon as I read the synopsis of The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project, I requested it, because I absolutely love meta. & I’m a true sucker for the Trope. It was a double whammy on my interests. This book was definitely unique, in terms of subject matter. I loved seeing this world, and was very intrigued by the concept of these Tropes getting called into work by their novel’s author.

Whoever said laughter is the best medicine not only didn’t fully appreciate the miracle of cough drops, but also didn’t consider laughter doesn’t cure you — it merely transfers the pain to your abs temporarily.

Also, remember #TeamJacob & #TeamEdward? Well, this book has #TeamMarsden & #TeamRafferty & I’m 100% here for Marsden. There’s also this play on Starcrossed Lovers/Forbidden Love & Love Triangles. SO MANY DIFFERENT TROPES, I LOVE IT.

One negative thing that I’d have to say is that I didn’t care much for the relationships in this book, but for me that didn’t matter much, because I was having too much fun with the Manic Pixie Dream Boy. & just seeing the world of TropeTown.

— also, while writing this review, it’s worth noting that I definitely just raised it a star, because I’m realizing how much I actually enjoyed this read. It was definitely adorable & a lot of fun. I definitely recommend taking a trip to TropeTown & reading The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project.
Profile Image for Pamela Stennett.
192 reviews
January 11, 2019

So, I have a confession.

When I was younger, I loved the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (or Boy when they were present) trope. I resonated with the spunky, energetic, quirkiness so much. I’ve always been a little bit MPDG, probably.

But as I got older, I started looking at the trope a little bit differently. While I was a free spirit and hyperactive, I still had my own goals and dreams. I won’t turn this into a dissertation on gender role expectations but needless to say, I fell out of love with the role type, at least in the more obvious incarnations (I’m looking at you, Garden State and Elizabethtown.)

Flashforward to the present and I find myself longing for the days when I had fewer grounded responsibilities. I think that’s why The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project resonated with me so deeply. Most of the appeal of the trope is that we all gravitate toward the spark we’ve either lot along the way, or never had to begin with. The shining, sparkly, fun, abandon calls to even the grumpiest among us.

Without giving too much of the story away, the book follows Riley, a Trope Town Manic Pixie Dream Boy, through what is sure to be a world-ending, disaster of an identity crisis, as his entire existence is called into question by the authority he and the rest of the town’s stock characters answer to. Through self-questioning, group therapy, and yes, manic pixie hijinx, a much deeper, softer, undercurrent of discovery runs through the story.

The bok turned out to be far deeper and more complex than I anticipated but then again, that’s the thing with Manic Pixie Dream folks; they just look sparkly when we’re down in the dumps and they come to rescue us. Off the page, they tend to be full, whole people with their own identities. And so are we.
Profile Image for Jady Babin.
306 reviews4 followers
March 12, 2023
Thanks to those who recommended ‘The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project’, by Lenore Appelhans.
A young adult, fantasy book I would never have picked up on my own.
It is brilliantly clever! Twisting the connection of authors and their characters into a world unto itself.
It has subliminal tones of societal changes and political correctness along with the ever pending curiosities of after-life.
This quirky, contemporary book is worthy of deep discussion.

“Reader World is a magical place. You know this, because you live there. Every day is like living in a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Do you even realize how lucky you are?”
Profile Image for Aleena.
239 reviews28 followers
April 27, 2019
"Your pass unlocks any gate to which you have access," the guard explains. He's young and tough with a buzz cut and an angry pink scar across his neck. Excellent grammar though.

This was a delightfully clever and tongue-in-cheek backstage view into not only the Manic Pixie Dream Girl or Boy trope, but the YA novel itself-- from the character's point of view. Riley is a stock character who wants to be so much more than his trope allows. When his trope is threatened to be retired, he has to band together with the other Manic Pixie Dream characters to do something about it-- and maybe subvert some tropes along the way. So many fun references (and sleight digs?) to popular books that we'll all recognize:

"Nebraska never showed up today," Mandy says. "Do you think we should check up on her?"
"Looking for Nebraska is a waste of time," Chloe declares. You won't find her until she wants to be found."

Lolz. Not to mention all the fun poked at the huge number of tropes there are to be found in TropeTown:

"When I walk out, I'm distracted for a moment by a lively Little League game. Harried Helicopter Parents shout insults at the Stoic Umpire while an Unconventional Coach gives a Defining Moment Pep Talk to the Spunky Underdogs in the dugout. I don't need to stay to know how this one will turn out. Same story, different day."

As a writer I enjoyed this one, but as a reader I appreciated it. It's set in TropeTown, so yes, many trope-y things happen, but it's all done with an undercurrent of irony and a dose of truth. I appreciated the examination of the racist and sexist tropes we've all run into in the history of literature, and ultimately the encouragement to subvert tropes and understand the complexity and value of characters/people of all types. 4 1/2 stars for a clever, out-of-the-box book!
Profile Image for Molly.
51 reviews145 followers
November 27, 2018
There was so much to love about this book, but there was also so much to critique. Overall, I enjoyed it, and it had some really great progressive moments despite having room to grow in other areas.

A brief summary: Riley is the only Manic Pixie Dream BOY in Trope Town, and he is in trouble. He's been a little too negative around his authors, so he is ordered to therapy where he can learn to behave like the proper supporting role that he is. Trouble arises, however, when he finds himself infatuated with another Manic Pixie Dream Girl in town only to discover she's also in his therapy group. Oh yeah, and the whole trope is at risk of getting retired, so there's that too. What's a Manic Pixie Dream Boy to do?

Things I Loved:
- The discussion of the writer's creative process with their characters -- It was very imaginative how these characters "go to work" when authors need them for a novel. It was a really unique concept, and it was described very well! I wish there was more of this throughout the whole novel as it was one of my favorite parts.
- The creativity and "meta" element of it -- Trope Town, the "Developed" characters, etc.
- The ending written for the fictitious book within this book -- I don't want to spoil it, but it's a nice progressive ending!
- The diversity of some of the characters -- There are some hetero romances, but there's also some mention of LGBTQ+ romances, and as a teacher, I like putting more relationship diversity in the hands of my students. This book would easily make all readers feel included.

Things I Didn't Like:
- Some underdevelopment in description -- At one point, the book talks about how authors too often forget to describe the setting and the characters are working in a blank room... I actually felt like that happened a lot in THIS book. While there was plenty of description of the characters' outfits and hair and whatnot, I felt like there was much to be desired about what the unique world they live in looked like.
- At some points it got really preachy -- My husband and I love watching "The Good Place" which is a fairly philosophical sitcom; however, sometimes my husband complains that there is too much preaching to the audience about philosophy and the meaning of life. I kept coming back to those complaints while I was reading this book. Before reading, I was already familiar with the author's criticism of the Manic Pixie trope and that too often these characters are underdeveloped, formulaic, and overused. However, I felt like I just kept getting hit over the head with it throughout the book, and it became really redundant. The book itself sold me on the idea of the trope and its limitations, so I didn't need preaching within the book about it as well.
- Overt criticism of other authors -- There's a character named Nebraska who was a breakaway start after being in a book and mysteriously dying... The developed character in the story spent the rest of his novel pining after her and wondering what happened... The criticism here is pretty blatant, and while I see its merit, there's something I don't like about tearing down another author in your book. I like the idea of authors supporting authors.
-The multiple plots -- I don't mind having an "A" story line and a "B" story line to a novel (it's what makes a novel interesting and complex), but I felt like the story lines all suffered because there were too many things to focus on and not enough development to any which one. There's the Riley love story, there's the Riley friendship story/therapy, there's the mystery of Finn (Riley's best friend), there's the potential retirement of the trope, and there's Riley at work... I wish some things had been cut so that I could feel more invested in the others.
- Character development -- Sometimes I was left confused because the characters were a certain trope, but then they were "playing a role" so it was hard to tell if the characters ever amounted more than the tropes they were assigned to. There were also some times that Riley would tell readers that he was a certain way because of his trope, but then he would also say he didn't know how to behave otherwise because of his trope... I wanted to know who he really wanted to be then if I wasn't seeing the real him.

Overall. I enjoyed it, but I wish the author had cut some things in order to expand more of the truly unique areas like the characters at work. I felt like that was one of the most meta moments, and it was one of the most quirky things about this book, so if there was more time spent there, I think this could have been a serious hit. It's still a fun book, and I will certainly recommend it to my readers, but there is room for growth. The author could easily write another book about another side of Trope Town, focusing on fewer plot lines, and I would love to read it!! She's started building this unique world, and I would love to see her continue developing it!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Lerner Publishing Group through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The book will be published on March 5, 2019.
Profile Image for Alyssa.
440 reviews19 followers
January 22, 2019
I got an ARC of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

To start with the good, I love how meta this book was. In this book, the main characters are characters in stories, working with Authors. That made for a treasure trove of gems like this:

“We did Pilates together, and she cranked up her book playlist. She said she spent weeks coming up with songs that exude the atmosphere of the piece.” Ava snorts. “It kind of felt like a waste of time, honestly.”

As well as:

I swear I develop whiplash from all the head nodding and bounding about I’m forced to do.

Honestly guys, this book was personally attacking me.

I raved to friends about golden stuff like this, and I was sure I was going to give this four stars. But then I asked myself to look past all the amazing vignettes and look at the plot, characters. And then I realized . . . I wasn’t impressed.

It’s not a bad book. It may work for you if you like cutesy stuff. But I just couldn’t connect to Riley. The entire time while I was reading, I was just like, “I don’t care about this, Riley.” A disproportionate amount of the book was about how much he really wanted to be Zelda’s boyfriend, and those parts were far weaker in comparison to the meta stuff/commentary about tropes.

Speaking of Zelda. I didn’t like her as well. Lots of the supporting characters felt like standard manic pixie dream girls, which is ironic, considering this is a book about manic pixies breaking out of the manic pixie mold. Even Zelda didn’t feel like she broke out of the mold too much. In the end, she too served as a standard manic pixie dream girl in a work that attempts to subvert the trope. The only character I cared about at all was Ava.

Anyone looking for a meta read might like this. Just be aware this is more a romantic comedy than anything else, and hopefully you won’t be as apathetic as I was.
Profile Image for Erin (_everysecondbook).
109 reviews6 followers
March 3, 2019
Welcome to Tropetown, where your worst fears are realized and tropes are literally everwhere

2.5/5 stars

I was provided an early copy by Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Here's the thing: this book was enjoyable and different but it just could've been taken so much further. And I do realize it is a huge tribute to the tropes and will play into them. I just thought it would be a bit more satirical than this.

I don't know, the characters all felt incredibly flat to me. Which is interesting, because this entire story is about Manic Pixies taking charge of their own stories and becoming more developed. They just seemed to play into their tropes and their main characteristics were their tropes, which I get is what happens in novels the tropes are in, but it seemed to go against the whole point of the story.

Also there were a lot of random plot lines that I found to be underdeveloped and strange. As well as secondary characters that seemed unnecessary. The romance is also left unfinished at the end of the story and I hate when that happens. It also becomes a love triangle, one of my least favourite tropes. And it isn't resolved once the story ends!

It also introduces this random racism/sexism challenge within the last 20% which wasn't developed at all, and was hardly effective. It, in all honesty, just seemed like an afterthought thrown in by the author to give the book more depth. It just seemed forced.

I just figured reading this story would be a fun and original look at tropes in novels and perhaps give me more appreciation for their purpose in a story. However, it was just a novel with an excuse to be 100% tropes with no actual original content. They weren't really expanded past what you expect their tropes to be and I was left feeling pretty disappointed at the end.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
902 reviews4 followers
April 12, 2019
Everything old is new again. This was such an interesting perspective on tropes, and more importantly, it's a YA story I haven't read before. At times it read a little more like a thesis than a novel, but I thought the concept of Trope Town was well executed and definitely fresh for YA. I'm not sure it would be as amusing for someone who isn't familiar with John Green's work, since there were pretty heavy allusions to Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, but I will absolutely recommend this to anyone who has some familiarity the MPDG trope. Librarians and adults who read a lot of YA might enjoy it even more than teens.
Profile Image for Samantha || Fictionally Sam.
235 reviews35 followers
March 4, 2019
4.5 Stars!
Buddy Read with Isabelle! ❤️
"Even if they are only parts, every part we take on informs our own sense of self. And when we're forced to live the same quirks over and over, those quirks start to define us."

This novel was insanely adorable. 

A work of contemporary meta-fiction with a splash of romantic comedy, The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project (MPDBIP), follows the story of Riley and the consequences he faces for going off script during a writing session with an author. However, during his government mandated therapy sessions he finds himself falling for one of the girls in his group, which is against the rules in TropeTown. As he grapples with his developing feelings for the new girl, Riley finds out a secret within TropeTown that will cause him to take a journey in discovering who he truly is instead of who everyone claims him to be. 

Throughout my time reading this book, I envisioned MPDBIP to be super cartoon like--almost like the children's show, Lazy Town, everything is golden and happy and sunshine in every corner you look. You have talking animals and a plethora of different tropes that live in this one town, where their sole purpose is to aid authors in their writing. However, TropeTown comes with a lot of different rules (like a shit ton) and a lot of those rules are stipulations of what you can/cannot do and who you can and cannot be depending on the Trope you are. 

“We did Pilates together, and she cranked up her book playlist. She said she spent weeks coming up with songs that exude the atmosphere of the piece.” Ava snorts. “It kind of felt like a waste of time, honestly.”

I wasn't expecting this story to be so deep and thought-provoking as I found it to be as the cast figures out who they are personally instead of who the world tells them they are. Appelhans gives her readers a chance to see how not everyone is what we think they are or should be, and that beyond the lens of labels they are indeed people with full exotic and complex lives--just like we are. 

With an ingenious writing style, Appelhans served up witty banter and epic pop culture references (I see you John Green shade) throughout the novel that pulls us into the story even further--keeping us entertained and smiling the entire ride through. The novel is fast paced but you never feel like it's going too fast that you get sucked out or confused about what is happening within the plot. 

Funny, deep, and snarky, The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project is a fast paced story about finding who you are when the world wants nothing more than to label you and keep you in a box. If you are a sucker (like me) for meta-fiction, or even a cute romantic comedy, then I highly recommend this gem!

ARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review. Quotations taken from an uncorrected proof and may change upon final publication.
Profile Image for Isabelle | Nine Tale Vixen.
2,032 reviews113 followers
March 4, 2019
Buddy read with Sam! ❤

I received a review copy from Netgalley. This does not affect my rating or opinions.

4.5 stars.

I knew from the title and cover that this would be one of The Best or else one of The Worst books I read this year, and I am so excited to announce that it turned out to be the former!

When have you ever heard of two Manic Pixies in love? I mean, wouldn't the universe explode from an overload of quirky cuteness?

This is so delightfully meta and so delightfully cute, self-aware and playful and ironic and whimsical. It has funny scenes, and cute scenes, and heartbreaking scenes, and some ... colorful references to pop culture. (Though I will say that I think the John Green shade goes a little far at times; I had a little snicker at some of the punchlines, but I do actually like a lot of his books — not to mention his other work as a YouTuber and general public figure.) And it's funny — I actually laughed out loud several times, which is rare for me! — with both multifaceted slow-build jokes and "bathroom" level humor. As a writer myself, I felt so called out by certain lines and scenes, but in a way that made me feel like I was in on the joke: #soaccurateithurts.

It's always something with these Authors. Why can't they just sit their butts down, do the nine-to-five grind like everyone else, and write in a linear fashion? Is that so freaking hard?

One of this book's greatest strengths is that there's something new around every corner, whether it's a bit of worldbuilding, a "different" Trope, an unexpected insight on emotional health and/or identity, or a development in one of several simultaneous storylines. It's an adventure in the truest sense of the word: there's travel between different parts of TropeTown (oh, and a fun map of Riley's world!), as well as moments of self-doubt and self-discovery, but there are (slightly) calmer moments where we get to just hang out with the characters in group therapy, getting to know them and vicariously enjoying all the different kinds of pie provided.

It's important to me that you like me. Because the more you like me, the more you'll care about what happens to me, and the more likely it is you'll continue to read my story. And I want you to continue because I don't exist otherwise.

Riley and the other Manic Pixie Tropes really exemplify "show, don't tell" — beyond their character sheets (which we get to peek at!) and flashier quirks, they each have so much personality and so much heart. (Or, well, varying amounts of heart. ) They have unique hopes and dreams and talents, and it's so easy to forget that they're supposed to be Tropes following their Authors' scripts.

This book definitely isn't for everyone, as the Goodreads average rating and some early reviews demonstrate. But if you like your romcoms with snark, a vivacious (and sometimes petty) friend group, and some crises of existentialism, I really think you'll like this one.

Quotes are taken from an Advance Reader Copy and may change upon publication.
Profile Image for Maja.
572 reviews1 follower
October 21, 2019
I picked this book up thinking it would either be strikingly clever or enjoyably bad, and it definitely came more on the side of the latter. It's a decent enough premise in terms of fun subversions and meta humor, but it's nowhere near enough to sustain an entire plot, let alone one as wildly flimsy as this one. It would have been a decent to great short story, but as a full-length novel, even a short one, hard meh all around.

Let's start, as usual, with the things I liked: it's a clever enough premise, like I said, and a fun setup to think about. I liked that all the Manic Pixies were friends and that they worked together to help one another. I loved the casual wlw rep! I like that it at least tried to be educational in terms of representation and the harmful nature of certain tropes (even though it was SO trite and rote and came out mostly like lip service). I like that Ava took control of her own life, that she was acknowledged and appreciated as a character in her own right rather than just a love interest for Riley. I liked that Nebraska was redeemed at least a little. (I LOVED the less-than-coy John Green nods with her, ha.)

And now having said that... BOY was this a simplistic, flimsily constructed, only-okay-written piece of substance-free fluff that could have taken SO MUCH space to deconstruct and subvert tropes and instead walked right into them for absolutely no reason!! Riley/Zelda is the most predictable, blandest het nonsense I've read in a very long time; I truly hoped that given all the talk of letting tropes be themselves and Zelda saying Riley loved the idea of her more than her herself, we wouldn't have a standard love story starting on a meet-cute with insta-attraction... AND YET WE FUCKING DID, UGH. UGH!! Zelda herself was definitely the least interesting of the Manic Pixies, and Riley himself was about as engaging as wet cardboard -- and seriously, we focus on a dude even when the entire book is about a female-originated trope?? Please. And-- honestly, I can't overstate how much this entire concept falls the fuck apart if you linger on it for too long. It makes NO SENSE that all of these fictional characters coexist in these capacities, let alone that they interact with real people and can escape into the real world! Seriously, this would have been a really fun short story and has absolutely zero business even attempting to be a novel. Really, don't bother with this one.
Profile Image for Brenna Clark.
195 reviews4 followers
February 8, 2019
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Lerner Publishing Group for this ARC! I was instantly hooked by the name and the premise, and I am so excited to say that it did NOT let me down! We follow Riley, a lone Manic Pixie Dream Boy, as he navigates life in TropeTown. We are introduced to so many tropes and sub types and even a few Developeds (the main characters of your favorite novels) and even though some of these share characteristics, they are all their own standout beings. I loved the absolute whimsy of this novel; just the idea of writers calling forth physical muses to create their stories around was intoxicating. Watching Riley’s journey for self-actualization was endearing and I couldn’t stop reading. It had me wondering what trope I would be, and hoping I could be a Manic Pixie with their love, light, and undeniable quirkiness. I loved the hints to popular scenes in media that we all love, notable ones being 10 Things I Hate About You and The Fault in Our Stars. We are also given a hard hitting realization that we do have these stereotypes that we lean on, not only in media, but in life, but these people are rarely only what they seem. We put them in boxes, and never let them realize their full potential, which is a mistake especially in real life. To quote one of my favorite lines from the novel, we must make sure that we make everyone feel like poetry, not shorthand. I loved this book, and I secretly hope there will be a sequel, for reasons you’ll have to read the book yourself to find out!
Profile Image for Christina (A Reader of Fictions).
4,220 reviews1,651 followers
February 28, 2019
Full disclosure, the author, Lenore Appelhans, is one of my dearest friends. My opinion is still honest, because that's my brand, but FYI I do love her so fucking much. (Also, her husband—who she only got to spend just over 2 years with including the time they were dating and who she loved with her whole entire heart—passed away completely unexpectedly, and she could use support. Please consider preordering this book to help her out. Her life is very dark and grief-ridden now, and she could use hope.)

The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project will not be for everyone. Indeed, it's not exactly a Christina book, which is to say that it's not a book that's all about romance, even if romance is something Riley thinks about a lot. Like all of Appelhans' YA novels thus far, The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project is high concept. It's a satire of YA tropes, particularly the manic pixie of the title, a loving but definitely cheeky look at both the good and the bad of the tropes. The book pokes some fun at John Green but not in a way that feels disrespectful.

What I find most brilliant about this novel is that, really, anything you dislike about it proves a point. If the characters tend to be a bit on the flat side, you have to remember that this is because they're tropes; they live in a world that's a shallow facsimile of the actual world, and, if they dare to step outside of the narrow confines of their trope, they get punished. The climax of the story is deeply absurd, but that too is a commentary on the trope, so it made me laugh with he book rather than at it. Such clever construction.

Some readers have found The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project confusing, and I can see it. You definitely need to abandon yourself to a thoroughly unique perspective on characters, tropes, and writing. Suspension of disbelief is necessary. You need to release yourself to this Pixar-feeling world. Personally, I enjoyed the ride a lot. There's a lot of humor, much quite subtle and requiring knowledge of the genres to really understand the underlying jokes. This is a book that, whether it works for you or not, will really make you think.

I read an early draft two years ago or so and this final version, which has undergone changes. My memory being what it is (or isn't), I was surprised and impressed once again with the creativity of The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project. It's rare to read anything that feels truly fresh and original, but The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project absolutely does. I recommend it most especially to readers who enjoy something out of the ordinary with a sly wit and real originality.
Profile Image for Juliana.
726 reviews1 follower
December 31, 2018
I was given a digital ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
This book is not what I expected at all. It was unique and very meta to the point that I liked it but didn't love it. The concept was very fresh and made me want to keep reading. What stuck with me the most were the scenes where Riley was in a book within the book and talking about the Author writing his scene. I liked these scenes the most because I could easily relate. When I write, I imagine my characters and how I can get them to move, talk, and do the things I want them to do. Lenore really understood the complexities of writing for your main characters as well as the minor ones. I do think that some of the concepts went a bit above her head and got away from her at times (thus the 3 stars) because I found it a little hard to keep up at times. The meta of the whole thing was strange to me sometimes because the fictional characters were aware that they weren't real and that the reader (aka me or you) was reading the story. It's clever but I think that more could have been done with the whole story. The author definitely did her research on tropes, especially for the main character of the story, and I felt I was getting a literary history lesson at one point. As a whole, the story was decent enough and I think that writers will get a kick out of it.
Profile Image for Ryley (Ryley Reads).
971 reviews76 followers
March 26, 2019
I love a good trope-y book, and one that's a bit more meta and addresses those tropes always intrigues me. That was the main motivator for me reading this book and while I thought those elements were really fun, I'm not sure how much I really got out of this book.

Thanks so much to Thomas Allen and Sons Canada for sending me a copy of this book for an honest review, as always, all opinions are my own.

This book follows Riley (yes, it was weird reading about a character with my name, even typing that felt weird) who is a Manic Pixie Dream Boy trope in TropeTown, a place where all the tropes live until they are called into an Author's story. However, after going off-script, Riley is sent to therapy with other Manic Pixie's, including Zelda. Despite Riley's growing attraction to Zelda, everyone knows you aren't meant to fall in love with your trope.

This, along with Brooding YA Hero: Becoming a Main Character (Almost) as Awesome as Me, are one of the few books that look at the many tropes and various other connections between YA novels and novels in general. The focus of this book, of course, is the MPDG or in this case MPDB trope, where the quirky, brooding character is only there to support the main character's story. Once they have achieved their goal, they are quickly discarded from the story.

Written fairly well, this book was a quick read. The chapters were short, a couple pages at most, and the writing style was accessible and easy to read. I think many a reader will have no problems getting into this one.

My only real problem with this book was that everything felt very... I guess surface level is the best way to describe it. There wasn't anything inherently bad about the storyline or the characters, I just felt like I wasn't really as immersed in the story as I could have been. Maybe, in some meta way, I became the outsider who didn't fully understand the potential of the MPD trope, but I feel like that might be stretching it a bit.

Overall, I did like this book and if you're into the whole trope thing, I think you'll enjoy it.
Profile Image for Becca Jacquin.
137 reviews17 followers
December 26, 2018
This book was way out of my comfort zone, but I couldn't get over the premise of getting to go behind the pages with characters.
I'm not overly familiar with meta-fiction and hope that it isn't the latest and greatest trend, because while this book was good it doesn't bear repeating.
There were hilarious parts, I mean group therapy straight out of Fight Club where you get to see some of the most common tropes thrown in a room together because they're misbehaving. Not to mention the cleverly named various areas of town.
Here are the reasons I knocked a couple stars off. The near chapterly reference to how amazing pie is got old quick. I mean, is it a Manic Pixie thing to adore pie? The Issue didn't arrive until maybe halfway through the book and by that point it felt more than a little late. Then the ending was not even really an ending, it was more a nice opening into a second book.
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