Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen | Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen #1 | ISBN 9780763628277 |Dyan Sheldon, 1999| 5 out of 5 Points
“Mary Elizabeth Cep (or Lola, as she prefers to be called) longs to be in the spotlight. But when she moves to New Jersey with her family and becomes a student at Dellwood “Deadwood” High, Lola finds the role of resident drama queen already filled, by the Born-to-Win, Born-to-Run-Everything Carla Santini. Carla has always gotten everything she wants — until Lola comes along and snags the lead in the school play. Can Lola survive Carla’s attempts at retaliation? Once the curtain goes up on the school play, which drama queen will take center stage?”
“Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen” is one of Ella’s favorite books, and even though I’ve already seen the movie with Lindsay Lohan, I decided to take a look at the source material, especially because Ella said the ending would be different from the film. I definitely wasn’t disappointed: “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen” promises a light romp through the social jungle of high school life through the eyes of one eccentric teenager, and it definitely does deliver.
THE DRAMA QUEEN AND HER KNIGHT
Lola Cep is not exactly a heroine everybody is going to empathize with. She is, as the title already alludes, a drama queen who loves theater and thinks she will be the next big star, she is pretentious and quite honestly a pathological liar, she believes she feels deeper than everybody else and that she has a soulmate-connection to the singer of her favorite band. She also believes that everybody in Dellwood/Deadwood is dull and not able to understand art in the same way she does, and in general, her life is totally ruined because she had to move to New Jersey instead of staying in New York, where real people with real feelings live.
Normally, these kinds of characteristics would be pretty putting off in YA. How many heroines have we read who think that all other people around them, girls especially, are dull and interchangeable? How many ‘Nobody understands me’ teenage tear-machines have we lived through in the YA genre? Generally, this kind of behavior is something that you’d turn your tail on and flee as far as possible, at least if you’ve got similar tastes to me.
The thing is, Lola is so extra and so over-the-top that these characteristics never really seem to be taken seriously. Even though we are in Lola’s head, it is very clear that she is not always right – most of the time, she really doesn’t know what she’s talking about, or she rambles herself into a corner as far removed from any rational notion of reality as Deadwood is from New York. The writing style of Lola’s inner dialogues mimics her histrionics, and at no point is her perspective presented as objective or rational. And that’s not what Lola is about. Objectivity and rationality have no space in the frame of this flawed, lying teenager who neither realizes her own flaws nor really feels bad for lying (only for getting caught). Lola might think everybody else is shallow and unimaginative, but we as readers realize that when a person who honestly wears a cape to school says something like this, we might not have to take it quite so seriously.
Lola might not be a character you like, but you definitely root for her. Even though she portrays her own wishes as life-or-death-issues, the passion with which she works on achieving her dreams is inspiring, and it does make you want her to succeed. You might not like her, but you care about her, and that makes the whole book so enjoyable, and also so frustrating when things don’t go her way.
Then of course, there is Ella, Lola’s side-kick and best friend. She is a ‘good girl’, she does her homework when she is supposed to, she doesn’t disobey her parents, she doesn’t lie. But even though Lola describes her as quite a pushover at the beginning, Ella might have the most character development of anybody in this book. Beneath the veneer of a mousy goody-two-shoes, a strong young woman emerges who stands up for her friends even in the most dire situations, who can handle crises so well that even Lola is impressed, and who, finally, forces Lola to see the errors of her lying ways by calling her out on her bullshit. Or well, at least she forces her to admit that she was lying and to stop doing it. I don’t think Lola will ever understand why lying is bad, but her love for her friend is strong enough to at least try. And Ella is really worth this love. Ella is the total opposite of Lola, and through her, the reader is made even more aware of just how wrong a lot of Lola’s behavior is.
THE QUEEN OF HIGH SCHOOL
An over-the-top protagonist like Lola needs an over-the-top villain if there is to be any acceptable conflict, and Carla Santini definitely qualifies. I would even go so far as to say that Carla Santini might be one of the best villains I’ve read in YA. She is an awful person, an aggressive queen bee, the type of person who makes fun of people because they’re different and because they don’t defer to her like a knight to his liege. She knows how to find other people’s greatest weaknesses, and she knows how to exploit them. She always gets what she wants, and if she doesn’t get it, then of course she didn’t want it in the first place.
And she lies. The biggest low point at the end of the book results from Carla telling a blatant lie and tearing down Lola’s defenses in one fell swoop in the process. Because you see, Lola might lie about herself, and about her family, but while people might die in her lies, most of them lift the people she is lying about up. She lies to make herself look better. Carla lies to make other people look worse. And while lying in general is not something that will ever make a sympathetic character, as a reader it is painful to see the consequences of Carla’s lies basically ruin the lives of the people she is lying about.
All in all, Carla is the type of villain who you just hate. You want her to have her comeuppance throughout the book, which is one reason why the ending of the book (as opposed to the film version) will leave any reader confused and frustrated, though not in a bad way. There is an open feeling to the ending, a feeling as if those characters you just read about for 200+ pages are still in motion, as if there is more to come. There is a sequel to the book, of course, but even without the sequel, this ending feels good in its complexity.
AND THE MORAL OF THIS STORY…
Even though I really dislike focusing too much on moral messages in YA literature, it has to be said that there are a lot of good messages in this book. One message, for example, which is also a wisdom I live by, is: Lying makes everything more complicated. So many of Lola’s problems would just not have existed if she didn’t choose to lie. But of course, if she hadn’t lied, her big adventures would also not have happened. That was part of another message which I found very interesting, which was that if you want something badly, you can definitely try and get it, but it might not be as great as you thought it would be. It’s not too much of a spoiler to tell you that Lola gets what she wants at the end – but that she also doesn’t. This was an interesting twist on a genre that mostly deals in happy endings, and I did enjoy that very much.
“Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen” is a character-driven, extremely enjoyable book with characters that you either love (Ella), hate (Carla), or just don’t quite know how to feel about (Lola). Lola is definitely one of the most compelling protagonists in YA, and the writing style reflects her strangeness and drama so well that you will be laughing out loud more than once for sure. I really liked this book, and I once again have to say that my dear co-blogger Ella has really, really good taste in books.
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