Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Break-Up Artist by Philip Siegel

* * * 3/4

Some sixteen-year-olds babysit for extra cash. Some work at the Gap. Becca Williamson breaks up couples. 

After watching her sister get left at the altar, Becca knows the true damage that comes when people utter the dreaded L-word. For just $100 via paypal, she can trick and manipulate any couple into smithereens. With relationship zombies overrunning her school, and treating single girls like second class citizens, business is unfortunately booming. Even her best friend Val has resorted to outright lies to snag a boyfriend.

One night, she receives a mysterious offer to break up the homecoming king and queen, the one zombie couple to rule them all: Steve and Huxley. They are a JFK and Jackie O in training, masters of sweeping faux-mantic gestures, but if Becca can split them up, then school will be safe again for singletons. To succeed, she'll have to plan her most elaborate scheme to date and wiggle her way back into her former BFF Huxley’s life – not to mention start a few rumors, sabotage some cell phones, break into a car, and fend off the inappropriate feelings she’s having about Val’s new boyfriend. All while avoiding a past victim out to expose her true identity.

No one said being the Break-Up Artist was easy.

You know, everything about this screams absurd until you remember that the popularity contest is alive and well every day, in every school, everywhere. Compound that with the fact that these days these things seem to be starting at an earlier age (my first is in 6th grade and oh, all that drama!) and The Break-Up Artist just may be a little insightful.

I started off having mixed feelings about Becca. She’s been hurt and holds a grudge against her ex-bestie Huxley. Their falling out is one of the reasons behind her skepticism of being in love. The other is the abrupt cancellation of her sister’s wedding at the 11th hour. Seeing her sister become a shadow of herself, Becca has come to see love as the ultimate death knell to happiness. She thinks of herself as a hero to the many couples she has already broken up. While I was taken aback by her pessimistic view on love, I was also impressed with how she ingeniously set up her business, advertised herself and went about her way.

Things get tricky when her current bestfriend  Val starts making googly eyes at Ezra. She’s torn between wanting Val to be happy but is also apprehensive about what changes this could bring. Then there is her latest assignment: to break up the golden couple at school, Huxley and Steve. I was wondering the whole time how Becca was going to keep things straight between befriending Huxley again and maintaining her changing friendship with Val. There's also the that risk of being exposed publicly which becomes very possible as the story moves along. 

What comes as a pleasant surprise is when the dynamics begin shifting and Becca becomes caught up in the tangled webs of her own creation. In befriending Huxley because of her assignment, she has actually come to know Huxley again. Becca’s attraction to Val's boyfriend catches her off-guard, putting her in a precarious predicament where she must now reexamine her own principles about friendships and relationships.

In reading The Break-Up Artist I was hoping for a whimsical story about the ups and downs of friendships but I didn’t expect it to go deeper than that. Becca was all “bitter and revenge” until she had to do some soul-searching to reconsider her own well-meaning but misguided intentions. I was hell bent on disliking Huxley  -- the many outlandish PDAs and declarations of eternal, undying love had my eyes rolling so often they were doing cartwheels -- but then she opened up to Becca and there was a real person behind the show. I still couldn’t wrap my head around Huxley’s and Steve's intensity but it was nice to see her character develop. But what I really appreciate about the book, is how Becca manages to turn things around by the end. She seizes an unexpected opportunity that makes me wonder if there's a possible sequel. I'll just put in my two cents and say, yes please!!

~ Bel

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