Sunday, August 14, 2011

Review: Gingerbread

After reading the Cohn-Levithan collabs Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Naomi and Ely’s No-Kiss List, I developed some sort of thirst for reading something that is written solo by Rachel Cohn. I'm no stranger to David Levithan's solo books (Boy Meets Boy, The Realm of Possibility, The Lover’s Dictionary, etc) so I recognize his distinctive writing prowess even if he's working with partners.

Gingerbread is the first book that quenched the said thirst. After finishing it, I think it’s safe to conclude that the best thing about Cohn is that she has a special way of molding unforgettable main characters that resonate with many young readers.

Meet Cyd Charisse: a ragdoll-toting, ex-shoplifting, and well-caffeinated sixteen-year-old girl fresh from being kicked out of her posh boarding school. She’s that lovely but spunky punk next door who has a penchant for carving patterns on her skin with a razor and an innate need to go wild. When her rebelliousness gets seriously out of hand, her parents have no other choice but to send her off to New York City and spend three weeks there with her biological dad, Frank. Cyd’s perfect image of a fantasy relationship with her bio-dad and half-sibs starts to crumble when the real thing is thrown to her face…

Plot-wise, there isn’t much that happened in the book. It reads like an informal journal of a very snarky antiheroine who’s dealing with commonplace teen problems. Honestly, I find the first half of this book a tad slow. I’m trying to figure out if Cohn is setting up a wiggle room for character development or she’s just letting the readers delve deeper into Cyd Charisse’s cranium of not-so-clean-but-honest thoughts. I learned by the end of the novel that it’s both, since the readers can easily tell how Cyd has grown a lot after she comes back from New York.

Readers who are familiar with Norah Silverberg (from N&NIP) will notice that her traits are somewhat channeled to Cyd Charisse, though the latter is not a music geek and her potty mouth is sealed with a filter. There’s a lot that she bellyaches about, her hormones meter usually explodes under the slightest “hunk” pressure, and most of her thoughts are extremely obnoxious. Then here comes the dichotomy factor: there is something in her that will magnetize a portion of the readers’ hearts—especially if they are young girls. I think it’s the same way a lot of readers don’t like Holden Caulfield yet there are still legions who can relate to him in a deeper level: they are recognizing something in that character that reminds them of themselves. Usually, this “something” is not nice, and characters that mirror such things are commonly tagged as unlikable.

The supporting characters, like the plot, are generic. The clichéd portrait of a dysfunctional family is there, with each member not inflated into weighty fullness. They’re not exactly cardboard cutouts, but they’re still shy of a couple of big steps from being considered well-fleshed out.

As for the themes, it’s all about the teenage life. Family misunderstandings, peer pressure, romance, and serious repercussions of being careless in sexual relationships are touched. But since this is a coming-of-age novel, finding one’s true self and growing up are at the apex of it all.

I did not enjoy this as much as I did Nick and Norah’s, but it’s entertaining enough to make me want to grab the next book in the series, Shrimp. :)

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