Author: Holly Smale
Published: February 2013 by HarperCollins Children's Books
Source: Personal paperback
Harriet Manners knows a lot of things.
She knows that a cat has 32 muscles in each ear, a "jiffy" lasts 1/100th of a second, and the average person laughs 15 times per day. What she isn't quite so sure about is why nobody at school seems to like her very much. So when she's spotted by a top model agent, Harriet grabs the chance to reinvent herself. Even if it means stealing her Best Friend's dream, incurring the wrath of her arch enemy Alexa, and repeatedly humiliating herself in front of the impossibly handsome supermodel Nick. Even if it means lying to the people she loves.
As Harriet veers from one couture disaster to the next with the help of her overly enthusiastic father and her uber-geeky stalker, Toby, she begins to realise that the world of fashion doesn't seem to like her any more than the real world did.
And as her old life starts to fall apart, the question is: will Harriet be able to transform herself before she ruins everything? [Goodreads]
It feels like everything that I love about YA contemporary came together with a large dose of wit and style courtesy of the author and I was left with a pretty perfect book. I bought this a few weeks ago as it was on offer and the cover instantly made me pick it up - yes I do always judge - but I didn't get round to reading it straight away. How sorry I am now that it stayed shelved for those weeks and wasn't instantly being read!
As soon as I started reading, I absolutely fell in love with Harriet Manners - geeky, socially awkward and a pretty much an outcast at school, she has a hard time dealing with her peers, in particular her nemesis Alexa, whilst trying to live life her own way. My first thoughts were...I can relate to Harriet so much I'm pretty sure Holly Smale stalked me for much of my teenage years, and secondly...this book is HILARIOUS. I'm sorry about the capital letters but it's true - I giggled my way through the entire book (apart from one particular hurtful moment for Harriet in her English class). To be honest, I think it was definitely our British humour that has made this book 5 stars for me. I might be wrong, but I don't think I'd have had the same reaction of 'I'm laughing so much there's a mixture of goo running down my face' if this book were set somewhere else. Holly Smale wrote with a humour that reminded me a bit of Louise Rennison in her Georgia Nicholson books, but with her own originality.
The book follows Harriet as she gets spotted in Birmingham as a model - dressed in a boy's football kit as her own clothes are covered in vomit after an eventful coach trip. We then go with her and her father to Russia as she is thrown into the world of high-end fashion and takes part in her first photo-shoot and catwalk show - and disaster ensues.
I think the part I loved the most about this whole story was that Harriet tried her best to stay true to herself. She does end up telling lies to her family and friends about her new job, which she becomes disgusted at herself for, but she remains the same sweet, clumsy, fashion-awkward 15 year-old inside.
To me, she felt like a real person - she was always enduring the personal battle every teenager has to go through - finding yourself at the time when you need to grow up a bit, but still appearing quite child-like, even if some people try to hide this immature side as much as possible. I loved that Harriet embraced this side more freely, much as I wanted to (and did) when I was a teenager. I didn't want to grow up fast and behave like an adult when I felt it wasn't me. I didn't know how to put on make-up, I didn't really want to have anything to do with boys, other than a classroom crush and maybe a first kiss. I didn't want to spend my weekends shopping or going to parties - I would quite liked to have stepped outside in public in my comfortable Winnie the Pooh jumper just as Harriet does, and not care what other people thought. Harriet, without even trying, is a role-model.
Her world makes me feel at my most comfortable, and I'm excited to see where Holly Smale will lead us next - a romance starts to blossom in the first book and I'd love to see where that ends up going. There was no horrible insta-love that has become so notorious in YA fiction, and I hope that stays the case for the second book in the series - something I have already rushed out to buy! I can't wait to re-enter Harriet's life and if you're looking for a heartwarming, humorous book with a refreshingly real protagonist then this might be right up your street too.