Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Meg Cabot's Airhead


Em Watts (short for Emerson--her parents were expecting a boy) and her best friend Christopher escort her little sister, Frida, to a signing at Stark Megastore by singer Gabriel Luna (or as I like to refer to him, Angel Moon) because Em's mother doesn't want Frida going off by herself. And also because of a little something called Plot Contrivance. Frida's basically a Quinn from Daria wanna-be except perhaps slightly smarter, a soupcon less pretty, and with no Fashion Club. Em, on the other hand, is a whiny feminist wannabe who hates all things teenybopper and thinks that fashion and beauty trends are frivolous and sexist. So the kids head off to the Megastore which is mobbed by girls who want a piece of Ringo--er, Gabriel. Em thinks that Gabriel is surprisingly fine. Then, for no apparent reason, It Girl and Supermodel Nikki Howard walks by. Then a plasma TV lands on Em's head and she's knocked out.

When she wakes up, she's in Nikki Howard's body because Nikki had an aneurysm (result of a congenital problem) at the exact moment that Em died and scientists managed to save Em's brain and put it into Nikki's body. No, really, that is what happened. The good people at Stark Enterprises (who Nikki was working for) arranged for the whole thing. But Em has to honor Nikki's modeling contract and pretend to be Nikki. And everyone except her sister and her parents thinks that Emerson Watts is dead. Including Christopher who Em's kind of sort of in love with. And Em's about to find out that being a supermodel isn't all it's cracked up to be! Yup, that's right--lots of supposedly "smart girl in a hot girl's body" inner turmoil. Think back to Cabot's Princess Diaries except with science! Don't worry--the good people at Stark cooked up a half baked story about Nikki having amnesia to explain her constant George Dubya in the headlights look when anyone mentions highlights or Cosmo.

So, Em spends the rest of the book getting to know Nikki's entourage, modeling, going to a club, and figuring out how to get in good with Christopher. It ends with her making a gesture to him that lets him know who she is (in a sense), and then going to have dinner with her parents. There is indeed a sequel, called Being Nikki, and I'm hoping the sequel contains a sex tape and/or a cameo by Kim Kardashian in print form.
  • In chapter one, Em gives a well thought out speech in her Public Speaking class about female versus male video game fans which no one pays any attention to, including her teacher and Christopher. Then Whitney, the class Hot Girl, gets up and gives a speech about how standards of beauty really are fair (basically it's the anti Beauty Myth) and how people who say that they're wrong are really just jealous or fat or whatever. Em sputters and protests and somewhere far away, Andrea Dworkin just exploded in her grave.
  • We're supposed to cheer for Em because she's a smart, feminist type. How do we know this? Because she tells us that for cheerleaders to wear halter tops is demeaning and sexist. Why? Because mommy (a womyn's studies professor), Naomi Wolf, and Oprah Winfrey said so. But the girl spends more time gaping over the fact that she woke up with manicured hands than over the fact that she's essentially dead.
  • Lulu (Nikki's Nicole Ritchie equivalent) and Brandon Stark (that's Nikki's boyfriend) think that Nikki's in the hospital due to some breakdown because Nikki's handlers are all being very cagey about what really happened. So Lulu and Brandon kidnap Nikki from the hospital and take her home to her loft apartment. Brandon tries to make out with Nikki-Em, she rebuffs him but finds herself oddly turned on. I reach for the Pepto but grab the Ipecac, all business as usual.
  • Lulu sort of finds out the truth about Em because Em told her she wasn't really Nikki before signing that pesky little non disclosure agreement. Except Lulu's a bit dense and thinks it might be a spirit transfer thing and that maybe Nikki's soul is floating around somewhere. Lulu's very small, cute, and extremely stupid. Kind of like a lobotomized Olsen twin. (All right, I know, redundancy department of redundancy here I come.)
  • Lulu also becomes Em's guru in all things fashion and beauty related. You know, stuff like don't wash your hair everyday (which is a load of BS that some raging anti-corporation hippie fed to a Seventeen creative director who's been propogating it all on us) and when in doubt, exfoliate. It's all very Galinda from Wicked meets She's All That. Lulu also shows Em that any girl can get any guy to fall madly in love with her just by turning on the charm. She shows this off by bending and snapping her way to glory with the delivery guy and then turning him down when he asks her out, while Em gapes.
  • If you're wondering if Brandon Stark is any relation to Stark Megastore, then yes. His father owns it. Mr. Stark also gave Nikki her computer--and is monitoring its activity. (Em figured that out.) He's like Richard Branson (you know, Virgin Megastore?) except evil (how can we tell? I don't know, I think he has a goatee or something). He also knows about the unfortunate body switch. Em hates him because Stark Megastore, with its discount prices and loud hip music, shut down a cute little Mom and Pop bodega near her house (and now they can't eat bananas without spots on them). Later in the novel, Mr. Stark shows up at a fashion shoot and Em tries to talk to him but he blows her off and leaves. And...that's pretty much it.
  • So, Lulu, Brandon, and Nikki/Em spend the night at the apartment. Next morning, Lulu's beau shows up and it turns out Nikki was having an affair with him. She goes downstairs to talk to him privately. They start to make out and she protests. He responds, "'You know this is what you want'" (and I checked the sarc-o-meter, it was on zero). She responds, "'No...I don't. It's wrong'" all the while thinking, "...he was totally right. I did want it." Yes, rewriting rape pamphlets so that no means yes makes for absolutely stellar escapist writing. You go down that route and you get stuff like, "Her lips said no, but her visible pantyline said yes." (A snippet of Sadako's term paper for Harlequin Romance Novel Writing 101, biyatches!)
  • Getting all meta-referential for a minute, Em thinks that this moment is just like one of the romance novels that her sister reads and leaves lying around the house, but in a "totally awesome way." Ew, ew, ew. Though to be honest, I know what all of you who have read romance books are thinking--there's way skeevier stuff out there in the world of bodice-rippers than a little bit of non-consensual making out. And to all of you, I say, yes--Speed Bumps: A Nascar Harlequin Book. (No, I didn't make that up. Google it if you don't believe me.)
  • So this make out moment is getting awkward. What to do? Gabriel Luna shows up! And yes, I shudder every time I type out that godforsaken name--just how bad was your real name, kid? Was it Bobby Zimmerman bad or was it Melvin Mengele bad? Mr. Luna (no, that's not any better, is it?) shows up and rescues her by giving her a ride back to the hospital. On his Vespa. Em thinks that he's pretty cute (even though her heart belongs to Christopher). But may I remind you that most men have to have their balls removed to sit on the Vespa? Seriously. They just won't fit otherwise.
  • She has no alternative, though, because big stars can't take the subway or else they get mobbed with fans. And in fact, a bunch of schoolgirls mob Em and one of them takes a picture of her/Nikki on the Vespa with Moon Unit or whatever he's called. Later, Em sees this on TV with the announcer wondering if Nikki is two-timing her boyfriend, Brandon and gets genuinely upset, thinking, "Taking photos out of context--that's just ignorant. I would never throw my baby off a balcony cheat on my host body's sort of boyfriend. How ignorant is that?"
  • Apparently, now that Em's in Nikki's body, she has to eat different things. Nikki's body hates things that are sugary like cookies and loves things like pretentious seafood from Nobu. It also loves exercise. So Em finds herself eating fewer sundaes and more Wasabi peas. I decided to test that theory out when I snuck into Fashion Week (with a cover of the latest Vogue taped to my face--yes, it worked, people in the fashion industry have no depth perception) at Bryant Park to tempt the runway models. Turns out braised tuna can't hold a candle to sugar doughnuts (though maybe they mistook the snow-white powder for something a little closer to home).
  • At the Vanity Fair fashion shoot that she has to do with her/Nikki's boyfriend, Brandon Stark, Em spouts off to everyone that it's misogynist to jump on her boyfriend's back clinging to him because it implies that women are helpless. But she thinks to herself that deep down she really likes it. Oh, Em, and you wondered where the stereotype of the dumb model who thinks parroting the latest thing she read in Cosmo and wearing glasses makes her a Feminist come from.
  • Is it wrong that I'd also like to escort Em to a cold dark warehouse, tell her to strip to knee high socks and a dayglo bodysuit and then tell her that it's okay, it's empowering? (Or so it is, according to an interview with an American Apparel model that I read in The Village Voice that was wedged in between two transsexual escort service ads. After all, it takes talent not to shiver and to avoid getting tetanus from the nails on the floor while also arching your back and making eye contact with the camera.)
  • Anyway, despite the barrage of hair and make up people telling her what to wear, how to fix her hair, everything she really needs to be...well, a model, Em starts to enjoy the shoot. And surprisingly, the fact that she's essentially dead doesn't bother her anymore! I guess a Vanity Fair spread makes up for it. Okay, okay, if I got to do a Vanity Fair spread, I suppose I'd feel a little better about being legally dead. But only because I'm assuming I'd get to meet Dominick Dunne and ask him if he's planning a book on Phil Spector's trial. And also get Maureen Orth's autograph.
  • Later that night, Em goes with her friends to a club called Cave where Justin hits on her some more. She throws her drink (which is actually just water) at him, and when he realizes she's not drinking booze, she responds that she doesn't do alcohol or other people's boyfriends and storms off with the strains of "Got to Be Real" playing in her wake. Then she tries to prevent Brandon from getting into a fight with a DJ, he grabs her and carries her outside, and they get into a limo and are photographed by the 'razzis. Well, since there isn't actually a paragraph where Em compares herself to Princess Diana, that's something.
  • Em on modeling at her second shoot: "How can anyone concentrate on looking beautiful when all that is going on around them and inside their head, as well?" [Readers, anyone want to start up the Send Meg Cabot's Copyeditor the Box Set of Schoolhouse Rock Grammar Tapes Fund?] "Modeling isn't easy...You have to act like you're actually enjoying yourself when the truth is, every single inch of you is hurting and uncomfortable...most of all your heart." I'd feel more sympathy for Em if she were more worried about being legally dead. Why is her heart hurting? Because people saw her boyfriend Brandon Stark carry her out of a club last night and they think she was drunk when she wasn't. I'm the last one to be sympathetic to models, but I think that "Having to shimmy into a pair of tight mom-jeans while reciting some drivel about the gene code all in one take, and also pretending I'm cool with the sickest stage mom since Mama Rose selling my virginity to the highest bidder" beats that. Shine on, Brooke Shields!
  • Also, somewhere you just know that Tyra Banks' handlers are groaning as she pipes up with, "Well, Emerson, when I was fifteen, I got this really intense weave that made me feel like I was in another body, and I had to deal with the fact that three guys were into me and one of them owned a boat but another one was a Saint Bernard breeder, but then Yves Saint-Laurent met me at a go-see, and girl, you know, I dealt with it, and he told me how great I looked, and I signed another contract that very day. What were you saying again?"
  • If you're wondering if Nikki has an obnoxious toy dog, then yes, yes, she does. If you're wondering if said dog has shot itself in the head yet, no. No, it hasn't. (They have to save something for the sequel, am I right?)
  • Because Em wants to go back to her old school (as Nikki Howard, of course) she gets to take revenge on Whitney, the hot girl at school who was mean to her. When she's in Nikki's body, Whitney can't get enough of her--she passes her notes and wants to be BFFs. As Nikki, Em acts aloof but overall is pretty nice to Whitney (for example, the words, "Whitney, you ignorant slut!" never pass her lips). On my rating scale for frumpy or put-upon girls who takes revenge on enemies/frenemies/rich bitches (Carrie being a ten, Janis Ian's revenge on Regina George being a one), this is a negative eighteen. I had to watch Heathers eighty-seven times in a row to get the taste of this failure out of my mouth--and no, Christian Slater had nothing to do with it. Not even a little. (Incidentally, I rate Winona Ryder's revenge there as an eight which is quite good.)
  • We never really get that many details on what Nikki Howard looks like, other than she's really hot and has sapphire colored eyes that don't need to be photoshopped in pictures--they're that good. Since she's mobbed by schoolgirls in that one scene, I'm going to assume she looks like this:

  • Em makes it very clear that Nikki Howard's body is the one reacting to the making out with floppy haired collar poppers. And later, Lulu says she knows about Nikki and Justin and is fine with it because she's just not that into Justin, plus she knows what Nikki is like ("'It's like you're powerless over kissing'"). Putting the Feminazi cap on my head, I gotta say, I love that Em is only allowed to like kissing and feel arousal because she's in some hussy's body. Y'know, because nice girls only kiss boys they like. And when they're doing it, they lay back and think of England or Stark Enterprises.
  • Em as Nikki tries to get her guy, Christopher, to like her by going to the computer lab and asking for computer help, and then by telling him she likes Journeyquest, a computer game that Christopher and Em used to play together. He seems sort of interested but doesn't take the bait. Aww, let's send Em-Nikki to the nearest Bi Mon Sci Fi Con and see all the creeps in Wookie regalia mack on her because...OMG, hot girl who loves computer games. Aaaand, somewhere, some D&D themed undies just got splattered with cum. And somewhere all the slightly plump, Converse sneakers wearing vaguely cute girlfriends of guys dedicating their lives to WoW just died a little inside.
  • In the end, Em/Nikki hands Christopher a sheet of glow in the dark dinosaur stickers. This is a reference to first chapter of the book with that Public Speaking class speech. To get everyone's attention, she mentions that underneath her clothes, she's wearing a pair of shorts like Lara Croft's, only hers are flame retardant and covered in glow in the dark dinosaur stickers. (No, it doesn't work.) When her speech is done, she asks Christopher if he was listening and he mentions that her speech had something to do with dinosaur stickers. So this scene where Em hands him the dino stickers is all very Charles Foster Kane murmuring "Rosebud." Except that I totally forgot about the dinosaur thing and so I had no idea what had just happened until I went back to reread the first chapter. So either I need me some Adderall or Em really is that boring.

I do have to say, the escapist thrill of reading this book passed me by. And I'm not sure why because usually I like ordinary/unattractive girl turns hot (see the hundreds of Gypsy references on this blog, including one in this entry). But this left me cold. I think it's because it's not like the main character got any real sense of self confidence or a cute makeover. They just stuck her brain in someone else's body and a little part of me keeps screaming "I don't WANT to look just like Number 12!" I guess I'm feeling a bit cheated out of that montage (MONTAAAAGE!) of the perfect hair cut being found (you know, two or three bizarre looking ones, then something perfect) and the right make up and Stacy and Clinton throwing out your old clothes and giving you some new hot stuff.