A Review of Spoiled by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan
Poppy (Little Brown and Company), 2011
By REBECCA, July 2, 2012
In honor of the long-anticipated divorce of Katie Holmes and
scientology puppet Tom Cruise, I thought I’d visit the city of angels.
Molly Dix: cross-country runner and all-around nicey-pants from Indiana who has just found out that movie star Brick Berlin is her dad.
Brooke Berlin: Brick’s other daughter, also 16, who grew up in Hollywood chasing after her dad’s attention and designer clothing.
Brick Berlin: Hunky and well-intentioned movie star/producer/guru (in his own mind).
Shelby: Brooke’s nemesis, her dad owns a gossip rag and she is determined to follow every lead.
Charmaine: Molly’s best friend, enthusiastic about the L.A. thing, but down-to-earth enough to provide periodic reality checks.
Danny: Molly’s longtime boyfriend, he supported her when her mom died.
Teddy: One of the hard-to-find humans that Molly meets at school in L.A., they have spark immediately.
Max: Teddy’s sister, she takes pity on flailing Molly and is a real friend to her.
When Molly’s mother confesses (on her deathbed) that Molly’s real father is movie star Brick Berlin and that she wants Molly to go live with him in L.A., Molly can’t do anything but obey her mother’s dying wish and hope that her new father and sister accept her into their family. But Molly gets more than she bargained for in the trial by fire that is celebrity L.A.—can she stay true to herself in a world of mean girls and Manolos?
Spoiled is brought to you from the ladies who write Go Fug Yourself, so you would be correct to assume that it is a (quasi)-satire of the celebrito-fashionisto-starfuckery of L.A. Molly has grown up in West Cairo, Indiana (not a real place, I don’t think, although there is a Goshen, Indiana) with her mother, Laurel. On her deathbed, Laurel confesses that when she did costumes for a movie many moons ago, she had a sweet and short-lived affair with star Brick Berlin. By the time she knew she was preggers, Brick had already impregnated another woman and married her (like you do), and Laurel was happy to just raise Molly by herself, although she remembers Brick fondly.
Across the country, in Hollywood, Brooke Berlin, that other impregnation, has no idea that Molly exists. Her mother abandoned them years ago and Brooke spends most of her time shopping, primping, and attempting to get her father’s attention, while Brick flits from project to project like an extremely tanned and white-toothed butterfly.
So, you can see where this is going, right? Molly arrives in L.A., sweet and wholesome like all people from Indiana in books are, and Brooke is massively jealous of the attention that Brick gives her and decides to make her life more of a living hell than it already is when she realizes that part of going to a wicked fancy prep school in L.A. is that people carry Prada bags instead of backpacks and swap gossip column appearances at lunch instead of gossip. Enter Shelby, Brooke’s nemesis, who befriends Molly and shakes things up even further. As if rocky family relationships aren’t enough, Molly didn’t quite break up with her Indiana boyfriend, so when sparks fly between her and low-key sweetie Teddy, Molly is guilty and confused.
what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?
This is all to say: there is really nothing surprising in Spoiled‘s goings-on. The plot is totally predictable and the characters are straight out of central casting. Still, it’s a competent book, certainly, and the writing is very much in the vein of Go Fug Yourself: chatty, snarky, and rich in fashion-themed metaphors. As for the characters, no one can accuse them of being black or white, exactly: Molly is boring, but at least she’s nice; Brooke is selfish and vapid, but at least she’s amusing and has well-earned daddy issues; Shelby is conniving, but at least she’s smart, etc.
Brick Berlin, however, is comic gold and saved the book for me: he’s the perfect endearing and infuriating combination of total sincerity and extreme stupidity that seems to characterize people who take Hollywood (and themselves) seriously. When Brick picks Molly up from the airport in L.A.:
“‘This is an emotional time for us all,’ Brick said kindly. ‘Cancer is a vicious thief.’
He paused to let that sink in and then grabbed her face. ‘I’ve been waiting to meet you all your life, Molly. And now that you’re here, I hate to look into those eyes and see an ounce of pain, sweet child of mine!’
. . . She blinked back fresh, unexpected tears. Maybe it was the effect of being comforted by her father for the first time in her entire life, maybe it was that meeting a new parent reminded her of the one that was gone, or maybe it was the fact that he was gazing searchingly at her through fake Harry Potter glasses, giving him an air of permanent surprise. . . .
‘Let it out,’ he advised. ‘Tears are full of toxins. If you hold them in, they’ll flood your brain.’ . . . ‘That does sound kind of ridiculous,’ he admitted with a grin. ‘My trainer told me that. But I’m sure it’s true on a deeper level. I’ll ask my hypnotherapist’” (40-41).
Spoiled is moderately charming—the writing is fun and fast-paced—and it’s a fast read, but it’s not much more than that. I think a lot of the fun of the book comes from the fact that the authors are such experts on this specific milieu: everything about fashion, the paparazzi, and celebrities rings true. However, the downside to this is that even one year later all those bits of expert trivia already feel outdated. Similarly, the characters are more like outfits that are so well-coordinated that they feel right off the manikin—mere collections of characteristics. I think a huge contributing factor here is that Spoiled is written in the third person. The better to satirize with, I imagine, but the effect is that although we switch back and forth between Molly and Brooke’s perspectives, they’re in the same voice. As a result, Molly and Brooke never came alive for me and so I didn’t care about either of them.
The biggest problem, though, was that—as often happens when enthusiasts satirize—the line between sendup and obsession was . . . thin. Of course, there are moments where it’s quite clear that Cocks and Morgan are poking fun at extreme retail therapy, smoothie-meals, and paparazzi-baiting, but many of those same moments are so loaded with devotion—the sentence’s caress of those hunter green crocodile ankle boots—that they could just as easily be read as such. Really, it’s that Spoiled doesn’t take anything far enough to be satire (except Brick), nor is anything extreme enough to be truly entertaining or original.
For example, I have written here about why I think Gossip Girl is a thoroughly delightful show—a full-scale vivisection of the desires and psychologies of its Upper East Side characters. Spoiled, in contrast, skates on the surface, content to revel for a few hundred pages in a fleshed-out tabloid story with lots of pictures. If you are looking for a super-light read with a heavy dose of fashion and sprinkling of high school drama, then definitely give Spoiled a go—it’s fun and has lines like “asses are totally in right now” (73), “Brooke had insisted that looking bitchy would make Molly’s cheekbones appear more prominent” (80), and “can’t we just have a teeny-weeny taste of revenge? Like, retribution tapas, or something?” (276). The sequel, Messy, is out now.
I think one of the things that most intrigued me about Spoiled was that Molly is freaked out to find out that her dad is a movie star. I know that some people fantasized as kids that it was revealed that they were a princess or the son or daughter of a movie star or rock star, but that always seemed thoroughly unappealing to me. In point of fact, I would put myself up against anyone anywhere as the person who would make THE WORST CELEBRITY EVER.
For one thing, I would be arrested within two weeks for camera-smashing and photographer-punching; for another, my face looks like I’m pissed off even when at rest in neutral. So, for a critical and traumatizing chunk of years around middle/high school (you know, when girls are considered old enough to be aware that society considers it their responsibility to smile constantly, thus assuring men that they’re ok, but young enough that total strangers still feel like they have license to give them advice) people would always ask me “what’s wrong?!” and “why do you look so sad/mad?!” and (the absolute fucking worst) “it wouldn’t kill you to smile!” Yes, that may be true; but I might kill you for saying that. So, obviously, I would constantly be featured in magazines with captions like “Where’s RP-G going in those jean shorts and that scowl?” or “Is emo back? RP-G seems to think so!” or perhaps “Celebrities have bad days, too!”
Gossip Girl. Ok, so, obviously, Gossip Girl is a a watch-alike. Sink into the glamorous/sordid/privileged lives of Manhattan’s elite, and watch the fashion, scheming, making and breaking up, murder, destruction, love, and, well, fashion. Here are my top ten reasons why you will be delighted by Gossip Girl even if you, like me, are not someone who thinks you would like it. I’m not sure about the books the show is based on—anyone who has read them should tell me if they’re worth reading in the comments.
The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot (2000-2009). Mia is living a life of teenage obscurity in New York when she finds out that due to some heir-snafu she is now the crown princess of Genovia. Chaos, make-overs, princess lessons, balls, tiaras, and a fierce grandmother then ensue. I read the first couple of these when I was home from college on winter break one year and my sister had them in her room (hmm, I don’t know why she would have them). I didn’t realized that there are like 18,000 sequels, but Goodreads informs me that there are. And, actually, I quite enjoyed the Disney movie version. Anne Hathaway is pretty charming (esp. pre-makeover), Julie Andrews will cut a bitch, and it has a perfectly-cast Heather Matarazzo as Mia’s best friend, whom I have loved unreservedly ever since going to see Welcome to the Dollhouse like five times in the theatre when it came out when I was in eighth grade (woo-hoo, Brendan Sext0n III!).
procured from: the library