This is one of those books that I tend to keep waffling back and forth on; it’ll sit on my shelf for a few months, and I’ll think “Oh, did I really like that book? Maybe I ought to read it again.” And then I read it and back on shelf it goes.
Which isn’t to say that this is a bad book…yet it’s not one that’s terribly memorable. I will say this about Guitar Girl, while it’s a typical “teen girl experiences the darker side of fame” novel, the plot is a little more blunt than other more well-known novels with similar plot lines. But it’s incredibly fast-paced with the plot which can work at times, but doesn’t work all of the time and feels too-rushed, especially given the length of the book.
What I do like here is that the main conflict and driving momentum of the plot is Molly Montgomery and her being manipulated by her manager does actually read as realistic and makes sense. For all as Molly goes on about being an adult and able to make her own decisions can read as “bratty teenage girl,” it is a fairly realistic portrayal; add to the fact that that attitude is what allows Paul to really manipulate Molly emotionally. I also really liked that Paul doesn’t take advantage of Molly sexually—aside from the one kiss—but it is this emotional manipulation that feeds on “I’m going to make you into a star. You don’t need your parents, you don’t need to listen to your friends, you listen to me and I will take care of everything.” (The fact that this is common, especially given the number of young women stars in the last two-three years with varying ‘breakdowns,’ is frightening and does add a level of realism to this.)
And Molly didn’t read as bratty all the time to me. The only thing that I don’t like is her relationship with her parents—I did get her attitude of wanting to be more independent and being able to make her own decisions, and that’s fine. But I didn’t get any sort of love between her and her father (Molly’s mother is largely nonexistent, aside from being the go-between) until right up until the end. A lot of that is due to the fact that the plot forces Molly to be away from home, but we really don’t get to see a lot of interaction between her and her father for three-fourths of the book. So, their reconciliation at the end doesn’t really ring as true to me because we haven’t seen much of their loving relationship together.
But that said, I do like that Molly is very concerned with her friends, and that they (specifically Jane) are reacting badly to fame. While it doesn’t really help a lot with the plot, given that we’re seeing what happens through Molly’s eyes and it needs Jane to propel the plot along. However, I really liked that Jane’s choices and spiraling out of control is what makes Molly decide to walk away at the end. I liked that she doesn’t choose to leave fame because of what’s happened to her, it’s because that Molly’s afraid that her best friend isn’t going to make it through a full year of touring. And I liked that it’s very blunt about Jane’s decisions and what happens to her without vilifying her for sleeping around or drinking or partying.
The same thing applies to Molly’s relationship with Dean and the problematic elements between them. I liked that they do have the bad relationship where all they do is fight and snipe at each other, but they can’t help but go off and snog their brains out. And even then, Dean’s very cagey about letting everyone else know that he and Molly have been snogging their brains out. (And again, Paul—I really like that we get to see that Paul’s been emotionally manipulating Dean as well.)
(It should be noted that Paul pretty much reads as a skeevy douchebag in bright flashing letters from the first page he shows up. There’s really no hiding that fact.)
My other problems with the book are mainly due to the length. My copy runs a little over two hundred pages and the plot takes place over a year, and there’s a lot that gets dropped. For example, Tara’s characterization doesn’t really get fleshed out beyond being the quiet, shy supportive friend but given the ending, it doesn’t really feel true that she would abandon and turn on Molly like that. (The one line that hints at that suggests bisexuality but it’s never explored and written off as “Oh, she was drunk.”) I don’t like how fast the plot moves—I get the meteoric rise to stardom, but this is so fast that it comes off as slightly unbelievable. Unbelievable given that this is set in 2004-05, pre-takeoff of YouTube. The amount of time between when the Hormones form and when they get signed is less than a month, and it’s a little too quick for me to believe. I will give this to Manning, though—I do really like the music aspect to this. It plays to Molly’s character that she still believes in changing the world on nothing more than three chords and the truth, only to have Dean bluntly tell her that “No, even with three chords, you still suck.” I did like that at least at the beginning, Molly does have to work at being good a guitarist and even after being signed, she has to work really hard. Again, there’s not enough to Molly’s relationship with her father to actually feel like there’s a payoff to it at the end.
As I said at the beginning, this isn’t a bad book, but it is kind of unmemorable, especially with the writing and the part of the ending. If you like this kind of book, I’d check it out as it is a blunt portrayal of the darker side of fame; if not, I’m not going to say skip it but it’s not a must read. (To be entirely fair, I scrounged this up at the bargain shelf at Half Price Books for fifty cents. Yeah.) There’s some good things in it, I’m probably not going to kick it off my shelf, but I’m not going to go singing its praises.