Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Elite by Jennifer Banash

When Casey McCloy steps into The Bramford, she's overwhelmed by the sophistication and elegance of it all. Fresh from the Midwest [a town called Normal, fittingly], she's moved to New York City to live with her grandmother and attend the prestigious Meadowlark Academy. Here, all that matters is who you know. The designer to know is Zac Posen. The girl to know is Madison Macallister: popular, pretty, and platinum blond. She's not just Casey's new classmate and neighbor; she's an icon. So Casey aims to get in with Madison and her gorgeous gal pals from the start. As the reigning queen of coolness, Madison is capable of destroying reputations with one well-timed whisper. Better to be on her good side.

After a haute makeover from her new frenemy Madison, Casey is wearing [some of] the right clothes, saying [on occasion] the right things, and meeting the right people. Including Drew, the boy-about-town Madison thinks belongs to her and her alone...

When I first picked up this book, I was expecting to be awed or disappointed. I wasn't anticipating an odd combination of the both. But, for reviewing purposes, I'll point out both bad and good.

I was disappointed that this was what I expected it to be. The Elite was yet another story of a poor girl from the Midwest in a rich neighborhood in the northeast, going to an elite school that her family had to pull strings for her to even get into, and trying to befriend the richest, most popular, and nastiest girl she can find. Casey was yet another girl who was smart back home, but isn't now that she's moved to a new state, with new classmates, and new rules. She had a crush on the rich frenemy's not-boyfriend, and he liked her back. He was different from all those other guys. She was different from all those other girls. It had all the elements needed to be yet another one of those books--the ones I typically try to avoid. I could have run off a checklist and it would have met if not all then 99% of the criteria to be one of them.

This, I think, was the error. Having such a well-known plot won't bring recognition. I'm sure in a few months or a year, I'd forget I even read this book if it wouldn't be sitting on the top shelf of my bookcase. Even then, it's packed so tightly between more memorable books with more original plot lines that it might slip through the cracks and be lost to my memory forever.

But then, it also had some of the criteria needed for a good book, or at least one with potential, and maybe, I will remember it months or years from now. Jennifer Banash's style of writing was slightly different from the a-typical YA novel, using phrases, even if rare, that brought out the light behind the pages. And the characters have more depth than usual, each of them with a story. You even start to feel something for the girl you want to hate, which is an element key to a good story. If you don't like the characters, you can't like the book. But telling the individual stories of Madison, Sophie, Pheobe, Drew, and Casey, Jennifer Banash made a good decision. I liked to hear about their families, and how they really felt about everything. It made them more real and less of the typical mold that they fit. The only character I didn't think deserved any feeling at all (whether it be hatred or sympathy or something in the middle) was Casey. She was annoyingly self-conscious, a kiss-up, too clueless for her own good, and easily manipulated. I felt like she got what she deserved in Madison's horrid treatment of her. She wasn't anything more than the mold.

The most annoying thing about The Elite, though, was not the plot, was not Casey, and had nothing to do with the actual story. When reading it, I thought it surely must be a well-edited ARC, since the only other option is a poorly-edited finished novel. There were many mistakes I noted, the most obvious of which is the confusion of the school's name. I assume the correct title is Meadowlark, as that is what it's called on the back of the book, Casey says it's Meadow...something, and I counted 17 of those spellings, but I also counted 8 misspellings that name the school Meadlowlark, with an l. That is just one of many errors that I came across. [If you're reading this, Ms. Banash, I would be happy to point out every error that I actually marked so that they can be fixed for the next printing. I feel I have a very successful career as an editor, as I'm a total grammar freak--I've been called a Super Rambo Grammar Nazi, in fact, but don't ask me what that means.]

While there were many aspects of The Elite I didn't enjoy, I still feel like the next book in the series, In Too Deep, is one to look forward to, as most series only get better with time. This novel has potential, I guarantee, and I definitely wouldn't tell someone not to read it. I wouldn't tell anyone to jump up an buy it this instant, either, though. I give the first book in what seems to be a possibly promising series, just a 3.5, nothing too harsh, nothing to kind.

(a positive review from me can be expected soon, which I'm sure some of you will be waiting for, as my last few reviews have been mostly negative)


ambeen said...

I pretty much agree. I didn't think it was an omgsogood book but definitely a series to continue reading as it holds a lot of promise.


Interesting review. You make some great points. I really enjoyed THE ELITE and agree that the characters’ stories pack a lot of compelling details that make them worth following.

Can I just say, though: If you're going to tout your rep as a grammar Nazi, mention your future as an editor and/or comment on typos and misspellings, you should try to make sure your own writing (particularly a review that pinpoints mistakes) is error-free. ;-)

I'm just sayin'...!

Chelsea said...

I agree on the depth of the characters. Each one DID have their own story. I really like The Elite.

Lovely review, as always, Heather. ;)

*Heather* said...

Thanks so much for the comments. I was afraid everyone would bite my head off for not loving it as much as every else did.

Ambeen--You said it perfectly I was looking for the right sentence to describe what I felt about this book, and you found it.

Alexa--Thanks. Feel free to say what you like. I totally agree that I probably should have spell-checked and all that. I was in a rush and didn't think about it.

Chelsea--Thanks for the compliment!

Em said...

I just visited your blog for the first time (thanks for commenting on mine) and this is a seriously good review. I felt pretty much the same way. I did get an ARC of this book and it had errors galore, but I normally try to ignore them when reading ARCs. Was yours an actual finished copy??!!

Oh, and do you want to do a link exchange? I've already added you to my blogroll. I'll be coming back often. :)