Author: Heather Demetrios
Rating: 4 Stars
As someone who turns on the television maybe five times a year--for the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open, and ABC Family's 25 Days of Christmas--I couldn't adequately understand the hype over Something Real. I've never watched a reality TV show--not unless you count Food Network's "Chopped"--and was ignorant of the existence of "Honey Boo Boo" and "Dance Moms" until very recently. I may be young, but I really do live under a bookshelf. Needless to say, Something Real flew over my head, though not under my radar, until I read and loved Demetrios's sophomore novel, Exquisite Captive.
I'll admit it--the hype is right. For once. Something Real is a surprisingly poignant, emotional, and realistic debut. From the beginning itself, it's impossible to feel distant from the story at hand as Chloe's life is a tragic joke. Beth and Andrew Baker, once poor high school sweethearts with a dream of parenting a Baker's Dozen--or thirteen children--had their lives changed when MetaReel, a reality TV channel, decided to make their hopes a reality. For the first thirteen years of her childhood, Chloe's life has been documented on television--from her birth to her first steps to her medical overdose which put the show on hiatus for four years. Now seventeen, Chloe is finally living a normal life--friends, a potential boyfriend, and actual high school. But when she realizes her mother has signed up the family for another season of "Baker's Dozen", forcing Chloe back to her television persona of Bonnie and a life on camera, Chloe simply cannot deal.
What I find shockingly depressing about "Baker's Dozen" is the viewer reaction to the show. Beth Baker is a role model of The Perfect Mother. Not only does she seamlessly run a household with thirteen children, but she has survived the infidelity of her husband and lived to find love again, marrying Kirk. Although Beth knows Chloe and her older brother, Benny, aren't eager to be back on "Baker's Dozen," she is forced to seek employment with MetaReel due to financial reasons. Chloe's reaction to "Baker's Dozen" immediately forces her into our hearts and her volatile relationship with the camera, her mother, and even her older sister Lex who loves being on television, are all so beautifully written. Demtrios creates nuanced familial relationships with so much depth, whether it be Chloe and Benny's easy sibling friendship or even Chloe and Lex's difficult sibling rivalry, both these sibling relationships of different natures are impossible to label or explain because they are multi-layered. Admittedly, I did find it difficult to condone many of Beth's actions, particularly towards the end of the novel, but I suppose a mother with thirteen children truly may react in the manner she does--I'll never know.
Something Real is all-the-more endearing not for its reality television plot, but rather for Chloe's struggles to lead a normal life despite it all. Whether it be her tight friendship with her high school friends--who are seriously amazing friends--or her blooming romance with Patrick, the cute guy who sits behind her in government class, Chloe's internal battle to remain true to herself in the face of media dramatics is admirable. Chloe and Patrick's romance is a cornerstone of support throughout the difficult experiences Chloe undergoes. Of course, I found it far too perfect, but in Demetrios's defense it certainly made sense to write an easy, uncomplicated romance when so many other plot threads were complex. (Plus, if you want complicated romance from Demetrios just pick up Exquisite Captive--the gray matter is there in spades!)
One of my favorite aspects of the tale, though, were the snippets from magazines, newspapers, or simply scripts from older "Baker's Dozen" episodes that are littered at the close of every chapter in Something Real. Demetrios brings her story alive by giving it a wider audience--paparazzi, scientists who study the psychological ramifications of reality television, etc.--and I loved this tactical decision. For me, it brought the effects of this story home in a truly impactful manner. Something Real isn't an altogether perfect debut novel, but then again, whose debut is perfect? Demetrios has written a thought-provoking piece, one ideal for the young adult genre as it forces readers to reflect on their exposure to media and the manner in which it shapes their lives. Moreover, this novel--lightly--touches upon difficult futuristic decisions, hinting at New Adult themes, which I further appreciated. I, for one, would love a New Adult follow-up novel, perhaps from the perspective of a different character. We won't be getting one, I don't think, but a girl can certainly dream, yes?