**Warning: Spoilers May Abound**
How to Be Manly, Maureen O'Leary Wanket
When Fatty Matty Sullivan finds a self-help book by former football great Tad Manly at a yard sale, he secretly starts following the old pro’s advice to get in shape and get the girl. Summer goals: lose the milkshake weight, join the football team, and turn himself into the kind of guy super hot Cassie Bale will love.
But between taking care of his grandfather, trying to pass remedial Algebra, and getting caught up in his friend Jester’s half-baked weed-dealing schemes, Matty’s summer isn’t quite the game-changer he’d planned. When on top of it all his dad moves back in with his own plans to get rich quick, Matty suddenly has much bigger things to worry about than football and whether or not Cassie’s going to call him back. And it turns out that there might be more to being manly than he thought.
Maureen O’Leary Wanket’s debut is a sharp, comic novel about trying to do the right thing...even when you’re not sure what that is.(source:goodreads)
Cover-Overall, I'd say the cover is simple. The simplicity works, though: handwreitten type, along witht he basic "messy-ness" kind of all play into this theme of the main character, Matthew, wanting to go from (basically) "slob to...hot guy"? Basically.
Money on the bottom corner, doughnut plus crumbs (off-topic, but I've been craving a doughnut for about three weeks, now. Not quite sure why). It all plays in. Even what I'm going to call the "green stuff" in the upper corner. Which I mean, I'm a total advocate for covers having to reflect the novel within, and this cover definite does that.
Narrative-HOW TO BE MANLY is told from the first person POV of our main character, Matthew "Fatty Matty" Sullivan.
And I will say this right away, to get it out in the open: the narrative was the weakest part of the novel for me. When I read the first line, I thought of about three other ways it could be written to pack a bit more punch, and throughout reading I found myself mentally editing: combining sentences and breaking them up in order to alter the flow a bit and change up the sentence length.
Mostly, what got me was that the entire novel felt like telling. Either stories to describe people came up telling (and in awkward places) or else scenes, themselves, were filled with less description than I would have liked. The style was flat, which made imaging the world of the book a bit harder. It also made it harder for me to engage with the plot and the characters a bit more. So much advice from agents and editors comes in the form of "the voice must stand out," and in this book, it didn't. Sometimes the Unfortunately, I would have probably put the book down without a second thought for a year or two if I wasn't so adamant about reading a book all the way through.
In summary: flat narrative, and too much telling/not enough showing.
Plot-The concept of this novel was something I found interesting. And, really, I liked it. The idea of a boy who is unhappy with his weight trying to become "manly" through an old self-help book is something that can be taken right out of reality, so I was extremely interested to see where the author took it.
There was a classic mix between the main character trying to better himself through the book while there were so many setbacks happening in his life: deadbeat dad, drug-dealing friends, a mentally-ill grandfather, a decaying house that they can't afford to fix up.
So on the surface, I think the plot is a good one. However (unfortunately), I feel like my misgivings about it relate back to the narrative; there was just something missing, which made the timeline feel a tad fast, so when a few of the plot points came about I wasn't as invested as I could have been in the happenings.
Characters-To start with, I liked the characters. Something that I'm always extremely wary about when reading any book that takes place in or around high school or high school students is the excessive or heavy stereotyping (dumb jock, bitchy cheerleader, nerdy nerd, etc.). And while there was a small smidge of those typical personalities floating about, what I really enjoyed was how the plot didn't rely on those stereotypes, and they didn't wind up being completely overbearing.
Our main character, Matty, takes up the bulk of the story (bad pun?). From the first page there's a huge worry about his weight, mostly because he needs a larger size of jeans (and he's already almost at the largest there is). And even though his grandmother succeeds in thouroughly embarrassing him in public (both in the dressing room and then having a grand conversation with the coach of his high school's basketball team...along with the coach's daughter, Jessica), there's a lot of love in his heart for his family, which consists of the grandmother and grandfather. While much of the book revolves around Matty trying to lose some weight and lean up, his mind was also on a plethora of other things: his neighbor in the hospital (loads of guilt, there), the fact that their house is falling apart, his no-good father shows up (and obviously nothing good can come from that), the girl he likes (Cassie), trying to figure out a way to make money...it never ends. Yet I have to admit that Matty's chaacter does pull through, even at the end of some bad decisions. He's got an extremely good heart, which made me like him a heck of a lot better than the majority of the characters.
All of the characters have great, individual personalities. I could probably name them just by dialogue, they're all pretty distinct. The only negative thing I have to say about the characters in the book as a whole is that I feel like the author was just skimming the surface. Like I said, there's great personalities in each of them; I really only wish that more time had been spent looking a little more into them, as well. They could have all been fleshed out a little more.
Ultimately, like I said: I really enjoyed the concept. The book is overall on the short side (about 165 pages), and I think a lot of the fleshing out I mentioned could have been fixed by simply a few things here and there.
Final Answer: 2.75 / 5
If you'd like to check out the book for yourself, look for it on Goodreads, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble.
HOW TO BE MANLY by @Maureenow earns almost 3 out of 5 stars from @Rae_Slater. Read the review (Click to Tweet)
Special thanks to Rachel Miller from Giant Squid Books for providing me with an eARC of HOW TO BE MANLY for review.