Review: Rich and Mad

This is a compelling and beautifully written novel about first love, first sex, and everything in between. Maddy Fisher has decided to fall in love. And not just any sort of love: can’t-eat can’t-sleep crazy in love. Rich Ross is after the same thing. He’s set his sights high, and he’s going to make it happen. The problem is, in life’s messy whirlwind of friends and lies and sex and porn, the real thing can be hard to fine. But there’s always a first time for everything. . .--From Goodreads

The other day I read an article about Philip Pullman’s hatred of present tense novels. I don’t mind them myself, and it seemed silly to me that he felt the need to insist that his own literary preferences be the standard for others. After reading another third person novel, though, I’m sort of beginning to understand where he’s coming from in terms of strong style preferences. The last several books I have read that were written in third person have all been disappointments. Certainly, there are exceptions, but I think in general third person narratives prevent me from developing an emotional attachment with the characters. I like that the first person allows you to get inside characters’ heads and see things as they see them, as flawed and limited as that might be.

In William Nicholson’s Rich and Mad, the third person narration and the formal writing style made it feel as though the book was being read aloud by one of those booming tv narrator voices. I think a part of that is because of the British words, which sound formal to my American ear, and part is likely because of Nicholson’s screenwriting background, which seemed to show in his novel writing. The book is much more descriptive than most of the YA I read, and parts of it almost felt like stage directions.

The plot did not lack in realism and I do applaud Nicholson for his accurate portrayal of teen love and sex in all of its gory details. Nicholson also bravely approached abusive relationships and a teacher’s homosexuality, topics that are often shied away from, but were confronted here quite tactfully. The philosophical distinctions between love and sex were also interesting and important for teens to consider. I enjoyed the book more as it reached its conclusion, but found most of the process leading up to that a bit slow.

The cover of this book intrigued me when it first arrived. I’m not generally opposed to kissy covers. However, after reading this book on the bus and coming across a post on That Cover Girl, I had a change of heart. Sitting on the bus with a kissy cover that says “First love. First sex. And everything in between.” and then opening up to a chapter entitled “The sex lives of teenagers” admittedly made me feel self-conscious. I’m not embarrassed by my love for YA or by my appreciation of the occasional romance novel. But this one made me a little uncomfortable. Perhaps I was simply over analyzing things after reading about somebody else’s thoughts on the cover; maybe if I hadn’t read that post I wouldn’t have thought twice about it.

Overall, Rich and Mad was not what I had hoped for, but if you do not have an aversion to the third person or kissy covers, I’d encourage you to give it a try. One of the reasons that I was so excited by this book, and so disappointed that I didn’t like it, was that I had heard great things about it from other readers. Pick it up and decide for yourself.

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