First Lines: Henry calls me at 12:01 the night before homecoming. Or technically–and assuming the alarm clock I knock off my nightstand once a day is even in the right time zone–the morning of homecoming. “Cleveland. I need you. Put some pants on.”
I got this book from Edelweiss a long time ago, but there was always something about it that made me just keep pushing it aside. Not really sure why. Maybe the cover? But I’m a die hard Tudor enthusiast, so a modernization of Henry VIII and his six wives in high school? I was going to read it eventually.
It sounds like it should be a joke: a future ambassador, an ambitious Francophile, a totally bland Girl Scout, a new arrival from Cleveland, a cheer captain, and a newspaper editor all date the same guy. But this is life in small-town Lancaster, Indiana. And 17-year-old Annie Marck, known to her friends as “Cleves” as she is from Cleveland, feels like life in this new town is basically the next hit soap opera. Even as the new kid, Cleves is popular. Her best friend is Henry, the star quarterback of the football team. And yeah, Cleves may have dated Henry for a short time, but she was able to walk away from that relationship. Unlike some of Henry’s other girlfriends…
Simply put, I think this is history meets Mean Girls. Fast paced backstabbing, snark, and challenging the accepted roles of girls in society. It’s actually way more feminist than it sounds.
Annie Marck, known to her friends as “Cleves” because she’s from Cleveland, is probably the most sarcastic character I have ever read. I’m not even kidding in the slightest. I mean, there was a snarky comment on literally every page. I actually started counting that. She is on point most of the time. It flips from being bitingly funny to outrageously funny to just observationally funny. (My spell check is telling me I have just made a new word.)
I will admit that the book gets boring at times. When you’re reading all that drama, all that sass, it starts to get monotonous. Especially the drama, which I’m not always the biggest fan of. (It accelerates the pace of the actual history, which spanned over 30 years.) That accelerated timeline makes things a little iffy at moments, but Cleves does a nice job of showing just how bananas it all is. And I truly never thought I’d say sarcasm gets boring because I love sarcasm but…geez, at a rate of 1+ jokes per page, you eventually get tired.
The history is spot on, though. I loved discovering each little bit. I loved how there were always little digs here and there, little tidbits of actually history shining through. The personalities of the girls, the comments about their families being insane, etc. Even the inclusion of Parker Rochford (historically, Jane Rochford, wife of George Boleyn) was unexpected but absolutely delightful because she plays such a huge role behind the scenes in history and this book. It’s cleverly done and oh so thorough.
I also adored how this was set in the Midwest and a lot of the comments about Indiana and Ohio are ridiculously true. (One, about what we in the Midwest think of as “hills” as compared to other states, has stuck with me. It was something like, “It was a rounded rising, which we call a hill in Indiana. Go away, Colorado. No one asked you.”) The Midwest does not get enough recognition as a great place to set books because we have just as many crazies as everywhere else.
In the end, I really ended up liking and appreciating what this book was doing. But it was a bit of a struggle to get to that point. It did bother me at times that some of the events read really creepy or sexist in this day and age, but again, Cleves calls it out when she sees it. She makes that conversation happen, but it doesn’t change the fact that I got a little wigged out at some of the behaviors of characters in a way I haven’t when it was just history.
And maybe that’s the whole point. New perspectives.