Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Three Girls and Their Brother by Theresa Rebeck

You know, I've been thinking. The book that's hardest to review is not the book that you loved nor is it the book that you hated, it's the book that you neither loved nor particularly disliked. So it is for me and Three Girls and Their Brother which goes some way in explaining why it's taken me so long to so much as attempt this review, that and at some point here it became summer and it turns out I actually go out of the house and do stuff during the summer now. Who knew? Jeez, I'll be away this very weekend on a pseudo-vacation to the north of the state to basically sit around, read, and hang out with my grandma. So another weekend will go by with blog neglect, but at least I'll be reading...right?

I have one bone to pick with this book right off the bat that has nothing to do with its substance whatsoever. I got this ARC from Library Thing Early Reviewers, and it's a pretty nice looking ARC, three models in little black dresses looking like they are about to have their photo taken. You know, a decent looking cover, relevant to story, something to be excited about picking up and reading, right? Well, having finished the book, I trekked onto the internet looking for a picture of the cover to put on this blog entry.

This is what I came up with. This is the cover art. Okay, we live in an age of folks who judge books by their covers. That being the case, I wish they would have chosen something else, the picture on the ARC, or well...something else. I found the book to be a pretty decent read, but if I saw this cover at the bookstore, I doubt that I'd so much as look twice. Sadly enough, cover art counts for a lot. Here's hoping for something a little different for the paperback. I mean, does anyone agree? Or am I just over-snarky tonight?

Now that I've finished criticizing the cover art, I'm going to get on with the substance of the review...starting with yet another violation of the cardinal rule of ARCs - I'm quoting it!

You take so long to figure things out and just when you get there, they tell you you're out of time. I don't know why that is, but it does seem that way. Like most of your life you sit around all tense, going, "I know life is supposed to feel better than this. How do I figure out how to feel better?" And everybody's got opinions about how to feel better - get drunk, go to the movies, read a comic book or a p-rno magazine, watch TV, whatever. And so you do all that, and it doesn't work, but you're trying, you know, everybody gets points for trying. And then something happens and it just clicks. One day you're lying under a tree or something and it suddenly feels like you almost know it, how to be yourself, and then you do know it, for a second, and then something else happens. They blow up the World Trade Center or something. Someone dies. You lose everything. And then you think, Why didn't I know how to feel happy and content and at home in my life when I had everything I ever needed? How come as soon as I knew it, it all went away?

The three red-haired Heller sisters have just had their big break. Riding on the coattails of their famous literary critic grandfather, Daria, Polly, and Amelia find themselves in a photo shoot for the New Yorker done by famous photographer Herb Lang. For Daria and Polly and their washed-up beauty queen mother, this open door to fame and fortune is all they could have hoped for, but fourteen-year-old Amelia had other things in mind for her future.

In what seems mere moments, the three sisters, regardless of their intentions, skyrocket to fame, with photo shoots in all the major magazines, a billboard in Times Square, and even a part in an off-Broadway play for Amelia, who has hardly acted a moment in her life. As the girls sign a deal with an agent, and their mother actively pushes them even further into the spotlight in a desperate effort to relive her glory days through them, the three are swept away by the tide of their own sudden fame. Their brother Philip's lone voice of reason is drowned out by the din of those who only claim to have the girls' best interests at heart. Soon, even he is shipped off to his absentee father rather than allowed to "interfere" with his sisters' rise to fame.

The narrative proceeds in four parts, each narrated by a sister, and one by narrated by Philip. Rebeck writes in a colloquial tone that gives the impression of each character telling the story from their own perspective just as they would speak, which works, but is at the same time irritating owing to the fact that teenagers don't make for the most eloquent narrators. It almost strikes you as a fictional attempt at an E True Hollywood story except for the fact that the characters' voices don't seem all that different from each other and Amelia, especially, has a penchant of excessively bad language.

Nonetheless, Three Girls and Their Brother is a page-turner and a scathing indictment of what havoc fame can wreak upon a formerly normal family. Rebeck does a fine job of portraying the effects of the sisters' fame on everyone surrounding them from their fame hungry mother who easily loses sight of her responsibility to stand up for the best interests and safety of her children to the protective voice of reason brother who is slowly coming unhinged as he is tossed aside like so much garbage so that he can't stand in the way of the sisters' good fortune to the hoards of people so eager to exploit the newest "it" girls to make a buck that they will eagerly pack youngsters off to "meetings" with middle-aged movie stars who have anything but the best of intentions. Despite my occasional issues with the narration, I found myself totally absorbed in the story, wondering when and if someone would draw the line that would stop all the fame madness and hoping that lovable loser Philip might find his way back into the family that basically kicked him out on a whim and waiting to see how much of being used and posturing for the media the girls would take before they could finally learn to stand up for themselves amid the chaos.


  1. I agree with you 100% about the cover. I saw this book reviewed on another site and I completely ignored the review based on the cover. Isn't that horrible? I'm a cover snob.

  2. "The book that's hardest to review is not the book that you loved nor is it the book that you hated, it's the book that you neither loved nor particularly disliked."...I'm going to have to take your word for that, because to me they're ALL hard! And I've gotta say, even if this was a hard one for you to write, you made it look effortless!

  3. ti, glad I'm not the only one. I just seems like someone was asleep at the switch on this one or something. It's really a disservice to the book if you ask me, and I would totally understand your avoidance of book and reviews of it with just that cover to go on!

    Aw, thanks Debi! *blushes* Say, I've read your book reviews and I'd hardly say that you're struggling with book review writing.... =)

  4. I have noticed that it is most difficult for me to write a review of a book I that falls in between too.

    I agree with you about the cover. I would probably pass by that one without a glance.

  5. It's strange about cover art. I just read an ARC that I really liked, but (same thing) when I went to post the review I could only find the cover for the hardcover coming out and not the ARC cover art, which (IMO) was way better.

    I wouldn't bother to look twice at this book in a store. The cover is annoying.

    I also find that books I'm lukewarm about are the toughest to review.