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I'm immortally interested in cultural/literary deconstructions, feminism, anti-racism, South Korea, Supernatural, Sherlock Holmes, Hayao Miyazaki, Diana Wynne Jones, food (including but not limited to maple butter, tomatoes, and toast), fairy tales, parentheses, paper airplanes, films and books.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Mangled League

After the death of her free-spirited mother, sixteen-year-old Alex Lee must leave her home in northern California to live with her wealthy grandmother in Savannah, Georgia. By birth, Alex is a rightful, if unwilling, member of the Magnolia League, Savannah's long-standing debutante society. She quickly discovers that the Magnolias have made a pact with a legendary hoodoo family, the Buzzards. The Magnolias enjoy youth, beauty and power. But at what price?

As in her popular adult novels, Crouch's poignant and humorous voice shines in this seductively atmospheric story about girls growing up in a magical Southern city.

I couldn't finish it.

Here's the hoedown: I like the South. I went to see The Last Song just so I could marvel at the background shots and cinematography not ogle at the actors and their tragic acting. Georgia in fact is full of history. I researched houses down south and their old, old customs. I like to think of myself as an honorary Southern. Even if I wasn't, I don't know if this is how the folks in Savannah, Georgia act or speak. The text is peppered with "hee-ah"s instead of heres and "per-tuuuuuuhb"s instead of perturbs. I'm not sure about whether or not the author knows this but those kinds of asides make the reader - well me in particular - think that I'm a little stupid. I think I could visualize a Southern accent without Crouch's help all I would need is a ' "Trying to perturb me?" she drawled.' and the image would slide in just like that. Plus I do have a friend from Savannah and as a lifer, she doesn't speak with that much of a drawl. In fact it only comes out when she's angry. (But I don't know. Maybe the author based it some friends of hers who do have accents!)

There's a lot of telling. An unhealthy amount of it. I also didn't understand the whole switch in POVs. It would honestly be a lot more of a compelling read if everything hadn't been revealed in between the chapters of Alex's confusion. It might have even changed the way I felt about the book. Hasn't Crouch heard that less is more? Well, there are probably a lot of YA authors nowadays who've ran the opposite way when it comes to that saying. Then there's the name dropping which, OK, can be used when it comes to describing the rich but not all the time. D&G, Marc Jacobs, Mercedes, Blackberry Curve?! Why would anyone need to know that your character have a Blackberry Curve? What possible use could that be in a plot?

For a snob-hater Alex is kind of a snob (and yes, Madison, she is also kind of a cliche). She uses the word "rad" as if all Californians who grow up on pot communes do has this irritating way of making herself seem better than you. She has to explain "big words" like awesome and that even though she gets high, it's only to make sadness go away and she doesn't really like it anyway. She says the word "awesome" is supposed to be used exactly as it first was "making one full of awe" - and then Alex promptly spins on her heel and uses it in the same context as the rest of our clothes-buying generation.

She also treats Hayes and Madison with inexplicable disdain - OK, Madison it's understandable because they get under each other's skin the moment they meet but Hayes tries to be friendly at it still takes a while and several "mindless consumer" and "spending money when other people deserve it" preaches to get through to her. For no reason.

It was also alarming at how insensitive Alex could be about her mother's death - remarking offhandedly on how her mother could've used a protection bracelet before the car crash, the way that when she wakes up in the morning the first person she misses is Reggie and not her dead mother. Then there's the way that she moans over missing Reggie then does a 360 when she sees Hayes's brother - though agreed, he's a huge step up from the other sleazy.

I also take offense to what Alex thinks about the fact that she's a girl. Apparently, she "hates being a girl. Because tears always come at the worst possible time." (Or something like that.) I don't know about all the girls out there but just because a girl is a girl, doesn't mean she'll burst into tears the moment she gets emotional. I know that Crouch might not have meant it that way but really, there is a much better way to have worded that.

Alex seems like just such a two-face. One moment she's proud of her dreads the next she's saying that they're Reggie's fault. The moment Sina shows up, any thoughts of thanks for Madison who just saved her ass from those "bullies" is out the door. The Magnolia league, which she has been ragging on for the past book and a half, is suddenly a gruop of strong women with timely traditions ... and then Alex ditches her OMG-way-too-girly-friends for a beer. Then complains that she wants to defend them. Then the moment of contradiction: when she's talking with Thaddeus and he says he and Madison used to go out, Alex thinks this is boring and then goes to say "So what happened?" Sweet Georgia tea, she flipflops more than a dying fish!

Even as a sort of stereotype, Miss Lee, the Maleficent level of awesomeness grandmother, is cool - as in she cuts Alex down to size. I mean, how could you try and break into a room in the house of which you now live in without asking the owner of the house to open it first? Alex's characterization just boggles me.

The transition of this book is also just really awkward. The story will wander off in one chapter to say something that is entirely not needed. In fact midway through the introduction of a new character, it was as if Crouch remembered "Oh! I haven't described her yet!" and without any transition just lays it on you. It was jarring because I wasn't sure if I had read that right at all.

OK, the secondary characters in this book not to mention the primary ones are amazing underdeveloped. There was one scene when I was just so incredibly uncomfortable that I had to stop. The bullies, the school, they were so cliched and useless that it made me want to pull my hair out. No offense but we get that the MC doesn't like the way she looks. There's no need to hammer it in so that later on her transformation can shock and awe them all. Everyone's described as with a tan, either gold or orange, and are either nice and quirky (Dex) or bitchy and quirky (Sina) or just bitchy (the rest of the bunch). It gets exasperating at times because it's so easy to confuse all these uninmporatnt similar characters together. At one point, I had thought Miss Lee was talking to Alex when to my surprise it was actually Hayes. Is that even normal? Since when can you mix up the voices of a fifty/sixty year old cultured woman with a teenage girl?

But the description was great. The first part that I was reading, I could actually see the sunny roads, shaded campus lawns and sprawling mansions that Alex so often frequented. Not even that, however, could keep my attention for long. I just couldn't deal with Alex. This is only the second time I've been unable to finish a book before and to be honest, I don't think I'll be reading anymore of Katie Crouch's Magnolia League series. I might give one of her newer books a shot, though, if I see better reviews. (Which was one thing that puzzled me. One of my favorite reviewers gave it a one-star on Goodreads and everyone else seemed to love it so I went in a little hopeful and now realized I should trust said reviewer from now.)

All in all=

*This book was provided by NetGalley
**Summary taken from Goodreads


  1. I'm so bummed! I was really intrigued by the description and then I read the words "I couldn't finish it" :( The more you described what you didn't like, I realized I hate those sorts of things as well. I hate when an author hits you over the head with stuff, its like they assume their readers are stupid! Anyway, thanks for the heads up!

    -Kate the Book Buff
    The Book Buff: Book Reviews for Regular People

  2. I was so intrigued as well, which was why I was so excited to read it and then my interest just waned with every page. It really is too bad. I'm glad you found my review helpful!