Overall Impression: A book with brilliant writing and a wonderful protagonist that was let down by its cliché plot.
When I first saw this book pop up on my Goodreads feed it piqued my interest straight away. How can someone resist a book with a title like The Manifesto on How to be Interesting?!? I could barely contain my curiosity! When I looked at the blurb and it hinted that the story was about an introverted teen writer who wanted to turn herself into a research project because of the good old saying that you can’t write interesting stories unless you’ve experienced interesting things in life, I knew I had to give this a go. I love stories about characters going out of their comfort zones and deciding to become active agents in their lives instead of passive ones, they make the perfect coming of age stories. However, in a lot of ways this novel wasn’t at all what I was expecting, and, in this case, I’m not sure that’s such a good thing!
Apparently I’m boring. A nobody. But that’s all about to change. Because I’m starting a project.
Here. Now. For myself.
And if you want to come along for the ride then you’re very welcome.
Bree is by no means popular. Most of the time, she hates her life, her school, her never-there parents.
So she writes.
But when Bree is told she needs to stop shutting the world out and start living a life worth writing about, The Manifesto on How to be Interesting is born.
A manifesto that will change everything…
… but the question is, at what cost?
So let’s start off with the good, Holly Bourne’s writing is pretty damn awesome. It’s simple with minimal description, which makes it feel very functional at times rather than it being an important part of the book, but hidden within this there are tongue and cheek passages that degrade the ridiculousness of the school social ladder, snarky insights into what makes the ‘popular crowd’ tick and beautiful passages about the love of writing (and how it might be being lost in our modern society). Not to mention Bourne writes teen existential crisis in a way that made my heart ache. At points, her insight into the teen mind had a reminiscent Sarah Dessen type feel, which of course, appealed to me a lot! Bourne’s writing also flows excellently and has an addictive quality, which is partly due to her sense of humour which made me laugh and smirk on multiple occasions. I finished this book in two sittings, gobbling it up greedily.
The plot of The Manifesto of How to be Interesting is where I struggled. I’m not sure what I was expecting exactly, but I wasn’t prepared for a practically identical rerun of the movie Mean Girls. Heck, the book even references Mean Girls in it, as if this somehow makes it okay! Don’t get me wrong, Bourne adds her own touches to make this very much her story, but the whole time I was reading I kept thinking ‘oh great, like I haven’t already read and seen this 100 times’. The plot basically revolves around Bree deciding she wants to become interesting and therefore changing her entire look, putting away her brightly coloured tights in favour of ones with suspender effects, changing her hair, using makeup and infiltrating the mean yet admired popular crowd only to realise they’re human beings like everybody else and that she has lost who she is along the way. Basically, it’s all horribly cliché. The speed at which Bree was accepted into the popular circle felt far too easy and simple as well. Again, the protagonist comments on this convenience in the book as if to smooth over the issue, but it doesn’t really work.
Then there’s the aspect of the plot (which I think I can talk about without it being considered a spoiler because it’s mentioned in the first few chapters) that involves Bree’s intense crush on her English teacher which develops as the story progresses. This is a topic that I’ve always found uncomfortable and don’t enjoy reading about, I’m not sure why. I think it’s because I’ve always felt a huge respect barrier drawn between teacher and pupil so I can’t relate to this kind of thing AT ALL. Plus, the psychology of it unnerves me. Having said this, Bourne deals with this topic in an intelligent and thoughtful way – better than others books I have read, but she was fighting a losing battle with me and my reading preferences!
However, there were some real standout aspects in this novel as well. I loved the relationship between Bree and her mother, and how Bree’s transformation brought them together and gave them something to bond over. I don’t think there are enough family dynamics going on in YA at the moment, so it was a real gem to come across this and I enjoyed it a lot. The Manifesto on How to be Interesting also does a great job at tackling bullying and slut shaming, really digging into the reasons why they occur (I could have used this novel when I was at school). But mostly, I loved the way mental health was portrayed – not just in terms of depression which features heavily, but by highlighting the ridiculous standards we set and hold ourselves to, from which Bree’s obsession with being interesting appears to stem.
I found the main protagonist Bree fun to read about, she’s sarcastic, not particularly likable, tends to look down on many people and treats her long time friend, Holdo like dirt when trying to achieve her manifesto, but despite this, I thought Bree was a wonderful character because she has an interesting journey and has to learn and grow a lot throughout the book. Bree’s friend, Holdo, was also a favourite of mine, with his obsession with watching the extended editions of cult classic films often going off on alternative rants, and I thought his reaction to Bree’s transformation was the most realistic. While the author attempted to give the characters in the popular group Bree infiltrated depth past the normal clichés, I didn’t really feel that it worked, even this was a superficial ‘roll-your-eyes-I’ve-heard-this-before’ type, which was a shame, because it could have made such a difference to the entire story!
Overall, The Manifesto on How to be Interesting was a bit frustrating for me because I felt like the writing and main characters were way better than the plot they had been based around. I felt like I wanted to pick up these elements and plop them into a different story where they would be given more of a chance to shine! While the second half of this book was miles better than the first, it didn’t quite turn the corner in time for me to justify giving it 4 stars. However, I don’t want to deter you guys too much because this novel was entertaining, and I would 100% check out some of the authors other books because I really liked her style! Recommended to those 13+ who love Mean Girls style school drama and are interested in reading about teen writers, depression and bullying.
Writing Style: 4/5
Character Development: 3/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes.