Saturday, February 9, 2013

Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Carter

Title: Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover
Author: Ally Carter
Pages: 236
Publisher: Hyperion
Rating: WARTY!
Perspective: first person past

Note: Spoil to the word!

Well I'm into this for ten chapters so far and I have to say at this point that I'm not particularly impressed. I don't know what it was about that first volume; maybe it was the novelty of the novel and the fresh voice, and the promise of a fun series, but I really liked it. Vol. 2, not so much! Were my expectations too high after the first novel? I blame Carter for that! People often complain that the second novel in a trilogy tanks, and the third one can rescue the trilogy again, and whilst this isn't a trilogy, it is for me at this point, since I'm into vol 3, but unfortunately, it's not rising after the tanking of vol 2! Not yet. So be warned I may not read this series beyond this volume.

Just in passing, I discovered (I think from wikipedia) that Ally Carter is significantly older than I had imagined her to be. Not that her age is relevant except in that it surprised me, but I had pictured her (especially from her picture and the content of this series) as being in her twenties. More kudos to her!

This novel starts off with Cam visiting Macey in her natural environment: as the daughter of a senator, who is now, as it happens, running on a presidential ticket as VP to a guy called Winters (which makes me immediately suspect that particular guy of being a potential villain for some reason!). So they end up being misdirected with the presidential candidate's son some sixty stories up on the roof of a building sans Macey's bodyguards, whence a helicopter swoops down, dropping off several black-clad people to kidnap Macey (so we're led to understand). Cam takes charge and lowers the boy over the side of the building on the window-washer's platform, and she and Macey, whose arm is broken, beat a hasty and fighting retreat through vent shafts etc., thereby thwarting the kidnapping.

Both girls are understandably affected by this. Why the effect is so great is a mystery. Don't get me wrong; if this happened for real to any typical person, male or female, they definitely would be affected as Cam is, but recall that these girls are supposed to be exceptional! Indeed, that's part of the title of the school. Moreover, these girls have been (or should have been by now) especially trained for events like this; and have in fact, had such training in each of the two previous novels, so it doesn't ring true for me that Cam is quite so debilitated by it.

Nor did it ring true that when they all return to school at the end of the summer hols, that they would all have stories of secret adventures from the summer. Are these girls being sent on actual missions? That seems inappropriate at best, especially since it begs the question I just asked above as to why Cam is so affected by her experiences, whereas none of the other girls (with the possible exception of Macey) seem to be so put out from their experiences.

What this means from the school's perspective is that they have to have the United States Secret Service in the school. This is a cool ploy on Carter's part since the agent who is assigned to protect Macey on the premises is Cam's aunt Abby, herself a Gallagher girl. Here's a chance for Cam to learn more of her father, perhaps?

Unfortunately, Abby isn't very good at her job, even as Carter is repeatedly describing her as exceptional and giving examples. The reason I make this assertion is that at one point, Abby, for no reason whatsoever, abandons watching Macey to visit Cam's class (taught by Solomon) to talk about the kidnapping attempt! That's completely unbelievable and was actually where I really started asking myself why I'm continuing to read this series!

There are ways of having your characters do what you want and be where need them to be without completely destroying your story's internal credibility! Carter evidently does not know this; or worse, doesn't care.>/p>

At least Carter's learned to spell 'rappelling' in this volume! But there's none of the humor (so far) that I loved from vol 1. The closest she comes to it is in describing some technique using a name that is supposedly the inventor's. This is where I do miss ebooks: where you can search (assuming you have a decent ebook reader)! The funny thing is that I tried to search using Google books, and Google couldn't even find its own Google books reference lol! I can't find this in the book now, of course, but it was something like the 'Foryn' technique or theory, which sounds like Foreign technique, and which I found amusing, wondering if Carter had done it on purpose, and how many of these I'd missed, but in searching for it so fruitlessly, I found other such mentions and none of those seemed to have a hidden meaning - or if they do, it's too subtle for me!

Cam sneaks off to the Cleveland election event because she's supposedly scared for Macey's safety. She runs into Zach. Realizes he was the same suspicious person she saw in Boston, but learns nothing. She gets into trouble. She promises not to leave the school grounds. She leaves the school grounds to stalk Macey on train trip. She runs into Zach. She gets into trouble. She promises not to leave the school grounds. She sees that Macey is depressed at being confined to the grounds. She leaves the school grounds with Macey. Macey discovers she's related to Gillian Gallagher, runs off in an adolescent hissy fit. Cam gets into trouble. She promises not to leave the school grounds. Rinse and repeat.

That's it. I'm not exaggerating. There is no humor. There is no sense. There is no joy at all in reading this amateurish pablum any more. There is only monotonously repetitive, tediously ongoing, boringly never-ending sameness. I'm sure there are those who for unknowable reasons find this series entertaining. I'm sorry to say that I'm no longer one of them.

So everyone thinks Macey has run away to Switzerland, which is pretty stupid given that she's been trained to leave a false trail. Cam (of course) figures out that she went instead to Joe Solomon's house by the lake (where they went after the initial kidnapping), but instead of telling this to someone who would listen and be able to act on it, Cam, Bex and Liz drive out there and bring her back to DC. Yet again she breaks the rules. Yet again there's no price to pay, and Cam isn’t even close to being done disobeying her mother, breaking rules, and putting the lives of people she supposedly loves at risk. Neither is Zach.

The two of them step outside into an empty street against Cam's mom's expressed instructions, and suddenly a van appears, bearing down on them, and Cam all but panics thinking they're after Macey, who has also stepped outside with Liz and Bex. But they’re not after Macey, of course, they’re after Cam. There's a fight (during which one of the assailants recognizes Zach), and Cam's aunt Abby gets shot. Apparently the expert Gallagher girl is too stupid to wear a Kevlar vest. But of course she doesn’t die. And Cam doesn’t get blamed for anything, nor punished, not even remotely, much less expelled.

The story is nonsense even within its own framework. Cam simply doesn't get it, nor does she show any sign whatsoever of any kind of growth or of any ability to learn from experience. She endangers her friends for no reason at all, even while professing the pretension of caring deeply for them. She completely disrespects her mother's wishes and requirements, as well as the school rules - again for no good reason! If there were compelling reasons motivating any of her behavior, that would at least ameliorate her sins somewhat, but there are no such valid reasons. She's compelled only by irrational, ill-considered juvenile whim; whim which fits neither her character nor her training, nor her age (at least I hope it doesn't). Worse than any of this, she's never ever ever ever punished for any of her infractions and no-one sees anything wrong with the principal's daughter getting away with one serious infraction after another, without her having to pay any penalty for her unconscionable behavior.

For her recklessness and blatant disregard for school rules and rational norms of behavior in this novel she ought to have been expelled from the school. Now there would have been a really interesting tale to tell: a girl alienated from all she loves, sent to a different, ordinary school, where she nonetheless has exciting and realistic adventures that are actually thrilling and fun, quite contrary to what Carter thinks she's offering here. That would have been worth the reading, but this series is not, not even by its own rules (such as they are). This series has become a disaster, and a truly boring disaster at that. I don’t know why or how Carter managed to slip from that first novel which was fresh, and funny, playful, and entertaining, into purveying this miasma of melodramatic mediocrity, but she has, and I for one am really sorry to discover that, since I was looking forward to reading this series. Now I'm just glad I don’t have to read any more!

And finally, it’s on to Pride and Prejudice.

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