Saturday, February 02, 2008
Big Boned by Meg Cabot
I don’t know how to put this, really, but I sort of accidentally fell in love with a chick-lit book series. Seriously, I didn’t mean for it to happen. I picked up the first book Size 12 is not Fat for my wife for Christmas last year (we have a longstanding habit of making books a significant part of our Christmas purchases for each other. What?) because she loves mysteries, had just come off a Patricia Cornwell binge and was looking for something a little lighter to read. I saw this, read the back cover description, which entailed a plus size former teen pop star solving mysteries at a dorm in New York and thought “hey, this might work for her.” I didn’t even mention her Spice Girls obsession.
So, she read it a loved it and couldn’t stop cackling while she read it. It was intrigued. She said I’d probably enjoy it but understood if I wasn’t secure enough to be seen reading it. That was a challenge, so I read it too. And fell in love.
The premise is this: Heather Wells was a teen pop sensation who lost her recording contract because she insisted she be allowed to write her own songs. She also gained a bit of weight after her stage days, and her fiancée, another teen pop sensation and son of the record company’s owner, broke up with her. She entered a spiral of depression but got her life back together, decided to go back to school, took a job as an assistant residence director of a dorm, and moved in with her former fiancee’s hunky private eye brother, purely as his roommate. Yes, of course, she’s secretly in love with him.
Along the way, she starts solving mysteries, because the dorm she works at is nicknamed “death dorm” because of the number of people who tend to die in unfortunate ways. Big Boned is the third, and for now final, book in the series. In it, Heather has to solve the murder of her boss (the position of Heather’s boss is a little like this series version of Harry Potter’s defense against the dark arts teacher), a man no one liked, finds herself on the list of suspects, and has to navigate her way through a student labor strike. Also, decide how she wants to respond to the question her new boyfriend, a vegan, fitness-obsessed math processor, wants to ask her.
What works: As in the other book in the series, its strongest aspect is character and dialogue. That’s what makes these books so enjoyable. Heather is snarky, funny, and very relatable, even to someone like me who could only be more outside the target audience if I was a marine or a lumberjack (I’m neither, by the way). And anyone who’s ever worked in an organization that’s gone over to a management fad will find a lot to laugh at here. Some earlier characters come back here and become more important, and several relationships change and/or are deepened in some way. The ending is a great payoff for some of the “shippers” in the audience, but I don’t want to be any less cryptic than that.
What doesn’t: Well, it’s not the kind of book that either elevates or transcends it genre. It’s a light chick-lit mystery and it’s not trying to be anything but. The mystery plots of these books also tend to be sort of afterthoughts, so hard-core mystery lovers are not going to be satisfied.
Bottom line: Like I said, it’s a lot of fun, especially if you need a break between heavier books. And if you can dislike Heather Wells as a character, I probably don’t want to know you (see also: Ugly Betty).