Author: E. Lockhart
Narrator: Mandy Siegfried
Publication Date: 2005
Publisher: Listening Library
Blurb(GR): Ruby Oliver is 15 and has a shrink. She knows it's unusual, but give her a break—she's had a rough 10 days. In the past 10 days she:
* lost her boyfriend (#13 on the list)
* lost her best friend (Kim)
* lost all her other friends (Nora, Cricket)
* did something suspicious with a boy (#10)
* did something advanced with a boy (#15)
* had an argument with a boy (#14)
* drank her first beer (someone handed it to her)
* got caught by her mom (ag!)
* had a panic attack (scary)
* lost a lacrosse game (she's the goalie)
* failed a math test (she'll make it up)
* hurt Meghan's feelings (even though they aren't really friends)
* became a social outcast (no one to sit with at lunch)
* and had graffiti written about her in the girls' bathroom (who knows what was in the boys'!?!).
But don't worry—Ruby lives to tell the tale. And make more lists.
I like this book so much for being a fun, frothy, escape about gossip and boys. But I LOVE this book for transcending all of those things. When I first read the title: The Boyfriend List: 15 Guys, 11 Shrink Appointments, 4 Ceramic Frogs and Me, Ruby Oliver, I expected that this book would contain a few swoon-worthy boys and that our heroine Ruby would experience some drama-fueled teenage angst trying to decide which one to date. I even jokingly proclaimed myself “Team Noel” within minutes of the starting the book – fully expecting that I would spend the next day or so regressing into teenage girl-hood and gossiping about these characters. Now I feel like a shallow jerk for expecting so little from E. Lockhart, the brilliant woman who brought us Frankie Landau-Banks!
So often, girls are encouraged to “be nice” and get along – to not make waves, to make do with whatever life throws our way, to never give voice to our negative feelings.
”My problem is I can think whatever I think – girl power, solidarity, Gloria Steinem rah rah rah – but I still feel the way I feel. Which is jealous. And pissy about little things.”
Even mild discontent is often viewed as “bitchy” or “whiny.” These expectations are so pervasive and ingrained - we often place them on ourselves. I know I’ve been guilty of it – of quashing my anger, jealousy, and hurt beneath a pleasant mask, even as it all multiplies and festers inside. Because that’s what happens when you don’t acknowledge a negative feeling, in my experience: it grows exponentially until it comes out one way or another.
In Ruby’s case, she starts manifesting those feelings in a very physical way: panic attacks. Her parents, who are both clueless and over-involved, sign her up immediately for therapy. The novel itself is a written account of Ruby’s thoughts about a list that her therapist asks her to create: of all the boys that she’s ever been involved with. But the boys aren’t the real story - it turns out that Ruby’s best friends have stopped speaking to her and she’s become a “leper” at school. The story unfolds organically from one flashback to another with the list and the scenes in the present providing a really nice anchoring framework. It feels fluid but logical at the same time.
I am just so impressed at how much depth this fluffy little story had to offer. Ruby’s struggle to acknowledge and justify her own feelings and to eventually give voice to them is a subtle one. But as someone who has fought that battle, I really felt the weight of it. I’ve been there – so afraid of my own feelings that I couldn’t even acknowledge that they existed. When I was in that place, it felt like voicing those things – giving them a name - would only make them more horrible, more real.
This isn’t a triumphant feel-good story, but a quiet one about one girl’s first small steps toward emotional honesty, with other people but mostly with herself. And E. Lockhart gives us so much more than just Ruby: there’s Kim, who holds her feelings inside until they erupt in vicious outbursts; there are Ruby’s parents, who are engaged in a constant power struggle that they never discuss openly; and there’s even Nora at the end, who seems to want to forget that anything happened.
I’ve already downloaded the next three books and I simply cannot wait to continue. I know from experience that once you’ve given voice to your feelings – once you’ve felt that relief and that realization that the world is in fact not going to end – it’s almost impossible to go back to holding them in. I can’t wait to see more of Ruby’s journey in these books.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Cyndi Lauper - When You Were Mine