The Fine Art of Truth or Dare by Melissa Jensen

Publisher: Speak (February 16, 2012)

Format: Kindle Edition

Okay, I’m not gonna lie here: I keep up a pretty intensive back and forth with myself every time I read a new book.  Reading this one was no different.  I simply couldn’t wrap my mind around how such a fantastically written novel could have such a fantastically stupid title. I was all, “What’s the name of this book again? The Truth about Truth or Dare? I mean that’s just plain stupid! You can’t have the same word cropping up twice in a book title unless the word happens to be “the” and/or the title of the book is Paddy Clarke Ha, Ha, Ha. And PCHHH was just boring! I mean, I know super smart John from Latin II thought it was fabulous and bought you a copy so you would agree, but it wasn’t.  Anywho, stupid book title…[looks at home page of Kindle to see author’s name], Melissa Jensen! Oh wait. Huh. It’s actually The Fine Art of Truth or Dare? Huh. Well, shoot. That’s brilliant.”

Plot: Fiorella “Ella” Marino is at best a nobody at the upscale Willing School, and at worst a freak due to a hideous red scar she’s had on her neck since being burned as a child.  While she’s not popular, she does have two besties at school, Frankie and Sadie, to make her feel like she belongs. She also has a passion for art, in particular the works of the late Edward Willing, and a penchant for playing Truth or Dare with Frankie and Sadie.  While Ella feels like she has nothing going on in her life outside her very small circle, she’s ok with that and has come to terms with the fact that she’ll never be beautiful or part of the popular crowd.  When ultra popular hottie Alex Bainbridge loses a text book, Ella is the one that finds and returns it to him.  This simple meeting forces Ella into close confines with someone she never thought was within her reach.  Alex begins tutoring her in French and slowly, tentatively they form a friendship and later on, a relationship which challenges the school’s perception of what’s normal and forces Ella to face her own insecurities about her scar and her life.

Review: I’ll admit it, the first chapter ends on a note that made me think I had somehow stumbled into a paranormal YA romance masquerading as believable fiction but I was oh so wrong! What a fabulous book.  It is extremely well written, artsy and intelligent without feeling pretentious or pompous, and has a heroine who is 100% relate-able.  Ella is the quintessential high school girl.  She’s awkward and unsure of herself, brave yet scared, pretty yet feels ugly and ungainly, is incredibly embarrassed yet in love with her family, feels as if the popular crowd is way out of her reach, and is consistently second-guessing the choices she makes.  I loved her as a heroine because of her faults, not in spite of them. There’s something so moving about the life of this flawed girl who just wants to be an artist but has to put up with her own insecurities and her nut-job family. Then there’s Alex, who you would assume would read like every other boringly perfect high school romance hero, a foil to the flawed main character, but he is decidedly not the ideal and the book is all the better for it.  Alex is dreamy because of his faults and like Ella his flaws shine through loud and clear.  He has a tendency to ignore Ella, he’s moody and uncommunicative, a little smug and rash, can’t handle her baring herself and all her personal fears to him, but essentially he’s a good guy.  The combination of these two flawed characters, and the development of their awkwardly beautiful relationship, is nicely echoed in the substory of Ella’s search for the true love of painter, Edward Willing.  The painter is the focal point of her senior thesis and true to her teenage stereotype, she wants to write about how Willing only ever had one love, his wife.  And yet, when she learns that this is not the case, that he in fact loved again after her death, Ella is devastated. But the revelation ultimately forces her to recognize the flaws within herself and give Alex a chance at having a real relationship.

One thing I have to mention because it annoyed me to no end: why on earth did Melissa Jansen talk up gay BF, Frankie’s, straight twin brother all the time and his flirtations with the other BF, Sadie, if it wasn’t going to go ANYWHERE?! Seriously, what a tease to hear all about this gorgeous awesome secondary character and see how good he is with one of the main characters only for it to fall flat and have no point? Gah!

Based on the following criteria:

How much did I like the heroine: 9. Ella was spot on as the typical high school girl.  Smart but socially awkward, she had a really interesting internal monologue and did all sorts of crazy seeming things that no one would ever talk about out loud but you know we all do, such as having imaginary conversations with a long dead artist or pretending to be a curator to get in to the really good sections of the museum.  Plus her parents own an Italian restaurant! All you can eat pasta, cannoli, and antipasto. Props to her for not being a big fat cow like I would be.

How much did I like the love interest: 8. Okay I liked Alex a lot.  At first he read like your typical high school hottie.  A little unaware of the rest of the world, effortlessly charming with a whole set of gorgeous friends with money.   Then he showed a sweet, smart, funny side that you would never assume someone from the “it” crowd would possess.  Sometimes though the way he would look right through Ella and ignore her in front of his friends annoyed me.  Aren’t heroes supposed to do something that normal men don’t do? I guess I wanted him to be more perfect but deep down loved the fact that he was not. It’s a tough call.

How believable is the plot: 10. OMG y’all! This was me in high school, only I’m not Italian, not scarred, only had a gay best friend not a gay+straight best friends, never went to karaoke bars, and really wasn’t in love with a dead artist. But I did go through a period where I was enamored of the genius of William Faulkner and would imagine meeting him and falling in love and having genius babies together. Even though he was decidedly dead and not very attractive while alive.  And oh yeah, anyone can relate to the awkwardness of high school and the yearnings of being popular and fitting in and finding a hottie boyfriend who’s rich.

How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 10. Melissa Jensen does an amazing job here. This book is not pretentious in any way which it easily could have devolved into, the dialogue was extremely believable, the pacing quick and constantly moving, and the characters 100% honest.

How much did I want to keep reading: 9. The story ends on a high note but it would have been nice to ride the crest of that high somewhere instead of having it stop abruptly.  I wanted to keep reading to see what Ella and Alex are like in an actual admitted relationship but as the story ends, I guess we’ll never see it.

Final Score: 9/10. Love love love. Read this book first and foremost because everyone deserves a smart read without being made to feel stupid while reading it (yes, I’m looking at you Why We Broke Up and no, I still don’t feel stupid but realize that you wish I did). Everyone also deserves to read a book that is ultimately uplifting and shows that transformations in high school don’t have to be the radical kind, but something as subtle as a girl learning to live with herself and her own body in whatever its form.

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