Justin was just hooking up with a girl when his dad walked in on him, and now his summer’s totally sucking. Emmy has never felt like a part of her family because she’s adopted and her sister is biological. There’s also the issue of her having lost an insane amount of weight and cyber bullying a kid from school–but he totally had it coming. Now the two are stuck at Heartland Academy: part reform school, part counseling center, Justin and Emmy have nothing to do but face their fears–and themselves.
It’s unfortunate when a book that isn’t very good has a title that’s so easy to make fun of, because that’s sort of the case here. A Really Awesome Mess gets part of the title right: it is a mess, but it’s not particularly awesome. Indistinguishable voices between narrators, unlikable protagonists, and a bizarre treatment of eating disorders make this one a miss.
Much of the book’s problems lie with its dual narration. This is often found in books with more than one author (though this is obviously not exclusive), and if it’s done well, it can work to further the plot and add dimension to the story. If it’s not, it can serve to confuse the reader as to who is narrating. This one is the latter. Emmy and Justin sound incredibly similar, making it a chore to figure out who is narrating.
Neither one is particularly likable, even after their incredibly quick turnaround in therapy. Part of this is due to the fact that the authors are trying to make their narrators unreliable–and they are–it’s clear early on that both characters are in serious denial about how bad their problems are. But mostly, these kids are whiny little brats.
Perhaps the most perplexing part of the novel was the bizarrely inaccurate portrayal of eating disorders. While some of the dialogue was meant to illustrate how others perceived Emmy’s disease, the focus on the vanity of her disorder was alarming and flat-out wrong. Moreover, the treatment programs for those suffering from eating disorders was so out of whack with standard procedures that it makes one wonder if any research into treatment facilities was done whatsoever. It was this insensitivity with regards to the disorder that tipped the scales.
There are much better books about kids in treatment centers out there. This one is neither funny nor heartfelt. Skip it. Skip it. Skip it.
A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin. EgmontUSA: 2013. Electronic galley accepted for review via NetGalley and read for the 2013 Cybils.