Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein, by Libby Schmais

The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein, the debut YA novel from author Libby Schmais, is a collection of journal entries written by Lotus Lowenstein, a fifteen-year-old Brooklynite who is convinced—despite significant evidence to the contrary, like her recent D in French—that she has the soul of a Frenchwoman. She quotes Simone de Beauvoir, insists that she's an existentialist, and obsesses over the diet advice featured in French Women Don't Get Fat. And when she and her best friend Joni develop a crush on the same boy, Lotus decides that she is cosmopolitan enough to handle a more, well, open relationship....

The first few chapters of The Pillow Book had us worried that this story was going to be as embarrassing as it was funny, à la Sue Townsend's The Diary of Adrian Mole or Susan Juby's Alice, I Think. Thankfully, Schmais dials back on the wince-inducing antics as her story continues, and by the end of the novel we were sincerely rooting for her protagonist. Lotus can be incredibly silly, but her underlying competence and judgment were obvious enough to make reading about her misadventures entertaining rather than painful. We had faith in Lotus's ability to see through her classmate's free-love sales pitch, win back Joni's friendship, and cook a Mireille Guiliano-approved meal, and we are happy to report that Mlle. Schmais delivered on all fronts.

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