This month’s challenge – to read a book with a shoe on the cover – was (as I could tell the moment the challenge went up) picked by Chloë entirely (or almost entirely) because she wanted to read Cinder… which is the obvious “shoe” book to go for, really. That wasn’t really a viable LSH option for me, however, since I already own, and have read Cinder. So I went off to the library, wracking my brain, and the only book that came to mind was How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran, which I figured would at least make a good back-up option if I couldn’t find anything else. But within seconds of arriving, my eye was caught by a pair of bright red Doc Martens, which I grabbed and checked out before giving myself a chance to re-think my decision – so the book I ended up reading was…
James Patterson & Lisa Papademetriou
Maggie “Cuckoo” Clarke has been ditched by her mother, and has just spent some time in a psychiatric ward after having a breakdown. Now, with help from her foster mother Mrs. Morris, and her small circle of close friends, she’s determined to Get Happy – and this diary is the first step.
I was majorly conflicted over how to rate this book, and have been flipping back and forth between 2 and 3 stars for the last couple of days… On the one hand, I spent around two thirds of the book being either bored or annoyed by it; on the other hand, I really liked the ending, and I always find that I can forgive a book a lot of its flaws if everything comes together well enough in the end. (In a way, this book actually reminded me of Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan, which I probably would’ve rated much lower than I did if I hadn’t liked the ending so much.)
So, the things that annoyed me: Cuckoo and her group of friends seemed completely in love with the idea of their own weirdness, and it frustrated me that, in their efforts to avoid being clichés, they became clichés. Cuckoo’s friends individually weren’t unlikeable, but they were almost completely one-dimensional – with the exception of her best friend Katie (a.k.a. Brainzilla), who had a bit more depth. Her teachers’ actions (particularly Ms. Kellerman’s) beggared belief; the inclusion of Laurence Darcy (the younger brother of Mr. Darcy from Pride & Prejudice, whom Cuckoo made up and regularly daydreams about) reminded me of the most irritating kind of self-insert fanfiction (though I don’t know if I would have minded so much, if he didn’t show up in the story quite so often); and in terms of plot, nothing really happened until the last few chapters.
I do have some more positive things to say about the book, however. I really liked Mrs. Morris, and it was a real shame that we didn’t see more of her; I also thought Dr. Marcuse, Cuckoo’s therapist, was a great character, during her brief appearances in the story; Cuckoo’s relationships with both Mrs. Morris and with Katie were endearing and well fleshed-out; the illustrations (by Keino) were cute, if sometimes a bit distracting; and, of course, the ending was very heart-warming. The central themes of bullying, grief and mental illness were all dealt with really well, though Cuckoo – since we see everything through her eyes – doesn’t always take her own problems very seriously. On a related note, I thought I’d share my favourite quote from the book, which I think drives home one of the story’s most important messages:
“You have a right to be sad, Maggie. You’re fine. Sadness is not a mental illness.”
I look back up at the leafy wall hanging. The forest. Even trees go through sad times. But then they burst back to life. That will be me, I tell myself.
That will be me.
[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]
Edit (25/3/2016): Changed rating from 3/5 to 2/5, which is my final answer (I promise!).