The Manifesto on How To Be Interesting by Holly Bourne
- young adult / contemporary
- published by Usborne on August 1st 2014
- paperback version 448 pages
- Goodreads / Amazon / The Book Depository
★★★★★ 5 STARS
Apparently I’m boring. A nobody. But that’s all about to change. Because I am starting a project. Here. Now. For myself. And if you want to come along for the ride then you’re very welcome.
Bree is a loser, a wannabe author who hides behind words. Most of the time she hates her life, her school, her never-there parents. So she writes.
But when she’s told she needs to start living a life worth writing about, The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting is born. Six steps on how to be interesting. Six steps that will see her infiltrate the popular set, fall in love with someone forbidden and make the biggest mistake of her life.
Sometimes books leave impressions on you. Sometimes you read something which is so raw and real that when you finally, finally finish it you have to put it down and just sit there for a few minutes, letting it all sink in. This is one of those books.
The Manifesto on How To Be Interesting begins with the life of Bree, a rich teenage girl who could be pretty if she wanted but chooses not to be. She is close friends with geeky Holdo and doesn’t seem to care about her social reputation; all she wants is to be a published author. However there is a near constant stream of rejection letters and, doubting her skills immensely, she turns to her English teacher and close confident for help: he tells her in no uncertain terms that her current life is boring which is why all her writing is boring, too. What experience is she supposed to write from if she has none? And thus the story begins.
“What’s my purpose? I’m going to become interesting. I’m going to become somebody you want to read about.” – Chapter 6
Usually if I don’t like the main character I will not like the book, especially if it’s one which delves so deeply into Bree’s psyche. What’s interesting about the way Bourne characterises her lead is that she’s written to be unlikeable – we are supposed to read the book and slowly let her become a sour taste in our mouth. That’s the point. And it works, it absolutely works. Bree is a character you will love to hate because she’s real and she’s flawed and she makes the mistakes so many of us do but are too scared to admit to. She falls into the traps of vapidity and seeking revenge and manipulates those around her so easily. It almost feels unreal. Is she any better than the stuck up bitches she goes toe to toe with? That’s for you to question.
No fear, though, Bree is not the only fleshed out character in this beautiful world of lifelike people. Plenty of the other characters have depths I did not see coming and intricacies to their lives which were not expected. It’s not a black and white tale, easy to categorise the people within it. It’s very complex and ambiguous and draws upon the realities of all humans. Even the most shallow of people are human underneath.
“I’m terrified that my journey won’t tie up all the loose ends nicely. Because this is a life, not just a story, and life doesn’t always go the way stories tell you.”
So, whilst working her way up the social ladder through means of make overs, rare lipsticks, and interesting new stockings, Bree infiltrates the mean girl posse of her school. It’s not an easy fete and I was glad to see not all of the girls were as enamoured with her as Jassmine first was. Whilst on many levels it really was quite simply executed there were always ongoing little nicks that separated Bree from the other girls and likewise. Blogging about their exploits as she uncovered the truth about what it meant to be ‘interesting’ (aka popular), Bree enacts a quest to bring down the Queen Bee.
And yet, though a lot of her time is seemingly filled with lying her way to the top of the social chain, she still has time to run the Creative Writing club with her favourite teacher. The reader is very quickly introduced to the idea of Bree and Mr. Fellows as a romantic pairing but their romance doesn’t actually develop until a little later on. If I’m honest it’s actually a little… off putting. I don’t quite see the need for it. Whilst I recognise the implications of Bree caring for him, the reciprocal feelings were not necessary to the overarching themes of the novel. It would have made me far more comfortable as a reader for this to have been axed.
“If we were more interesting, we would be having sex right now. […] They should be having sex! That’s what people cared about. That’s what interesting people did. […] If she and Holdo ended up sleeping together tonight that would be a very interesting thing to have happened!” – Chapter 5
In a similar vein I felt that Bourne slightly neglected the friendship between Holdo and Bree. I thought he might be her respite, I thought she might indulge him in her experiment, let him know what was happening, but I was wrong. Neither the big reunion scene or the interesting parallels I expected to be drawn happened. Not in the way I wanted or anticipated, anyway. I think Holdo could’ve been utilised more as an antithesis to the others.
What did work exceedingly well was the inclusion of self harm. It’s constantly important to discuss serious issues like these within YA novels particularly and I’m glad that Bourne is so driven to include mental health in her works. What I liked about it in The Manifesto, though, was that it was rather low key. I’d like to make it clear that this is not a book about self harm but it is a byproduct of how Bree reacts to the events of the novel. It is by no means a focal point of the story but it’s not glossed over either.
Ultimately I loved this novel. The themes it explored, the characters, all of it rolled into a story I just couldn’t put down. With each book I read by Holly Bourne I become more and more convinced that she is one of the most important YA writers of the age. Even in spite of the few sparse bits of criticism I had to give I’ve still awarded The Manifesto with 5 stars. It’s impossible to read Bourne’s writing and not come out on the other side a changed person. This book will change you.