Author: Elisa Ludwig
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: March 13, 2012
ARC from publisher via Netgalley
What's weird is that as I'm writing this book review at a coffeehouse, two young white women are talking about their time in private school and how two Latino kids (the only two in the school!) spoke Spanish together in the cafeteria and how stigmatizing that was.
So Elisa Ludwig seems to have tapped into a certain private school zeitgeist in her debut novel (the first in a series), Pretty Crooked.
Willa Fox is the newbie at ultra-rich Valley Prep. After years of moving around the country with her bohemian mom, a big sale of her mom's artwork gives them the cash to live it up in fancy schmancy Paradise Valley, Arizona. Willa starts hanging out with the all-powerful Glitterati and moons over cute boy Aidan.
Except all is not well in her shiny new world. First of all, Willa learns that the Glitterati are cyber-bullying the Latino scholarship kids. As a newbie, she doesn't feel she has the clout to stop it. But she gets the admittedly crazy idea to steal from the Glitterati and give the money to the needy students a la Robin Hood. Secondly, her mom begins acting secretive and distant and Willa suspects she's meeting a man. But when Willa's hiding a big secret of her own, she can't exactly confront her mom.
I liked Willa's snarky voice and Aidan is a more well-rounded cute boy than I've read in awhile. I loved that the author wrote a story that wasn't just about shopping and mean girls, but also brought up questions about race and class.
A few things bumped me, though, and one of them was how the author handled race. And if you don't want to read me going all PC Police, then go ahead and skip this paragraph. (still with me? good.) When Willa meets the scholarship kids, who are speaking Spanish in the cafeteria, she calls them Mexicans. Well, they could be Mexican citizens, but chances are, they're not. They're probably Mexican-Americans. But they might be Guatemalan-American or Salvadoran-American or Something Else-American. Plus, calling them just "Mexicans" further stigmatizes them by taking away their American identity. Why Elisa Ludwig didn't use the generic and usually PC acceptable "Latino" is odd to me. Lumping all brown skin others as "Mexican" is a big PC no-no. Just sayin'.
(skip this paragraph, too, if you've had enough of my PC rant) What makes me sad about the author's word choice of "Mexican" is that it could have been a great character moment. Willa, once she befriends the scholarship kids, could learn how uncool it is to call them "Mexican." But that never happens. And what makes me sadder is that this probably arises from a larger issue of there not being enough editors who are people of color and who could have pointed that out. Now, this was an ARC, so there is a chance that someone caught and changed this before the final proof. We'll see. (end of PC rant. promise.)
The other thing that bumped me was that the last, big moment between Aidan and Willa was not earned at all. I felt it came out of nowhere for no good reason. I could go on, but I don't want to get spoiler-y. But, again, this was an ARC, so maybe the ending changed. I did notice that my ARC copy was 236 pages, but Amazon says the book has 368 pages. I've never seen that big of a discrepancy between an ARC and a finished book before. I think I may need to do an update on this book after it's released.
I'd recommend this book to readers who liked Lives of Our Own by Lorri Hewett or Defining Dulcie by Paul Acampora.