Book Review: Love, Heather by Laurie Petrou

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What you see isn’t always what you get.

Release Date: October 8, 2019

Pre-Order on Amazon

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Price: 18.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Stevie never meant for things to go this far. When she and Dee–defiant, bold, indestructible Dee–started all this, there was a purpose to their acts of vengeance: to put the bullies of Woepine High School back in their place. And three months ago, Stevie believed they deserved it. Once her best friend turned on her, the rest of the school followed. Stevie was alone and unprotected with a target on her back. Online, it was worse.

It was Dee’s idea to get them all back with a few clever pranks, signing each act Love, Heather–an homage to her favorite 80’s revenge flick. Despite herself, Stevie can’t help getting caught up in the payback, reveling in every minute of suffering. And for a while, it works: it seems the meek have inherited the school.

But when anonymous students begin joining in, punishing perceived slights with increasingly violent ferocity, the line between villain and vigilante begins to blur. As friends turn on each other and the administration scrambles to regain control, it becomes clear: whatever Dee and Stevie started has gained a mind–and teeth–of its own. And when it finally swallows them whole, one will reemerge changed, with a plan for one final, terrifying act of revenge.

Grade: C+

Review:

I really enjoyed the first 85% of this book so very much as it detailed the school life of Stevie who is on the verge of entering one of the popular cliques at school with her best friend Lottie when she makes a faux pas, and even her best friend of many years disowns her. That’s when the bullying begins. This is a very timely book as it discusses trans, transphobia, bullying, and school shootings. The book excelled in making teens sound like teens and having Stevie deal with bullying in a very realistic way for teens today (both in school and online).

But everything changes for Stevie when she befriends the loner, Dee who encourages her to rise up against the bullies and exact revenge. Soon, other kids are taking notice and the popular clique is getting what they deserve, although the author does explore the premise of the grey area where sometimes revenge becomes another form of bullying.

For anyone who has watched teen revenge movies ala Mean Girls, Heathers, and Carrie, you’ll love this book and cheer for our cinephile protagonist Stevie and Dee as they defy the high school hierarchy. My only issue with the book was that it got way too preachy towards the end of it. The message it was trying to convey was an important one, but it somehow sounded more like an after school special and so it took me out of the story.

I’m also confused by the fact that everyone keeps referring to this book as a thriller. First of all, we all know who started the Love, Heather revenge and nobody dies (I’m pretty sure there should be murder for a book to be considered a thriller, or at least a threat of murder, but that’s just me). Secondly, I’m getting really fed up with the plot twists for all books lately seem to be some form of mental illness. Mental illness shouldn’t be a plot twist, that’s just lazy writing! And lastly, Stevie never takes revenge on the one person that totally deserved it the whole time! Sure, they try to embarrass said person, but they never truly pay for their wrongdoings and that pisses me off when it’s a book about revenge.

I did enjoy the book a lot up to the plot twist and ending. The book is a page-turner because you do want to find out what is going to happen next, but all that climax for such a poor plot twist that was NEVER referenced in the conclusion since the protagonist conveniently decided not to mention it to anyone is what turned me off at the end. Which is sad, because I would’ve ranked this book higher had the last portion of the novel been better or more satisfying.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Throwback Thursday: Welcome To The Dollhouse

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I first watched this movie back when I was sixteen. Living in Italy, this movie never made it to the theatres there, so I obviously found it at my local video rental. Welcome To The Dollhouse chronicles the life of an awkward seventh grader, Dawn Weiner, who is trying to navigate puberty while also having to deal with uncalled for bullying at school and emotional neglect at home. This is the movie that catapulted Heather Matarazzo into stardom, and with good reason. Her performance in the film is so honest, raw, and unflinchingly realistic that you can’t help but cringe in empathy for her character.

Welcome To The Dollhouse

Dawn is such a social pariah that even the so-called nerdy types at school don’t want to associate with her. Instead, she has to put up with goth girl Lolita’s bullying and bad-boy Brandon’s threats to rape her. Even her teachers are awful to her, as she’s given detention when she speaks up about Brandon copying her test. When she retakes the test during detention and receives a low grade, she tries to plead with the teacher for a retest. Said teacher finds her behavior revolting enough that she has her write an essay about dignity and grade-grubbing to read in front of the class.

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At home, Dawn is mostly neglected by her parents who only have eyes for her younger sister Missy (who is pretty and loves to parade around the house in a pink tutu). Dawn pours all of her frustrations towards her younger sister, but Missy always has the upper hand as her parents (especially her mother) are usually manipulated by the wolf in sheep’s clothing that is their youngest daughter. Things escalate, when one night armed with a hammer she stands over the sleeping figure of Miss with the intent to hit her, and then rethinks her choice and solemnly whispers, “You’re so lucky, you have it so easy.”

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Dawn sees a little light of hope when she befriends Steve Rodgers (Eric Mabius), a beautiful high schooler with dreams of becoming a rockstar. Steve has agreed to be in her brother Mark’s band in return of getting tutored in Computer Science. It doesn’t take long for Dawn to fall madly in love with Steve, whom in return only acts friendly towards Dawn cause he’s such a narcissist that he basks in her adoration.

The reason why this movie resonates with so many people, especially girls, is that it unabashedly shines a light on an underdog that is constantly taunted, but she isn’t such a good person herself (she ends up gravely insulting her one and only true friend Ralphie and is always bullying Missy). But Heather Matarazzo played Dawn with so much pathos that we can’t help but still side with her even when she’s being downright mean.

For having had one viewing of the movie as a teen, I surprisingly remembered a lot about it. And no matter how many characters kept telling Heather Matarazzo’s Dawn how “ugly” she was, there was something about the actress that compelled me to keep on watching her. She had a quiet charisma to her, and her portrayal of an awkward teen was flawless. I don’t know how many child stars could’ve pulled off such an emotional portrayal.

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I recall loving the movie for being a dark comedy, and even upon viewing now, the film is very funny but at the same time very dark. Things never did get better for our poor Dawn. She never gains the insight and self-awareness to be less socially awkward, nor does she get the boy. In fact, the ending is so bleak that you wonder what was the point of the journey. This isn’t the sort of movie that assures you that bullying will stop once you get out of high school nor that Dawn will shed her caterpillar skin to morph into a beautiful butterfly. No, the movie suggests that there are clear social standings in life, and often, where you stand as a teen is where you’ll find yourself at as in an adult. A bleak outlook indeed.

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