Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
What I really needed to read this Valentine's Month was not a sappy love story but something a little more irreverent, bordering on caustic, but eminently humorous. Wibke Bruggemann's debut novel Love is for Losers was absolutely all those things and more!
The book opens with a journal entry for January 1st, detailing the worst New Year's Londoner Phoebe has ever had. Her best friend Polly has become completely engrossed in a worthless boy named Tristan, leaving Phoebe high and dry and with the opinion that falling in love is most definitely a feeling reserved for utter losers.
Phoebe's Mum is a doctor for Médecins Internationale (the book's equivalent of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders), whose job is literally to go out and save the world, so Phoebe spends a lot of time at Kate's house. Apart from being her godmother and closest confidante, Kate is a very Scottish former trauma nurse who now breeds "designer cats" and owns a cancer charity thrift shop. She's a woman who is always there for Phoebe and always seems to know the right thing to say — I wish we could all have godmothers like that!
When a designer cat in heat escapes the house on her watch. Phoebe figures she now owes Kate the approximate cost of four designer kittens. And after she attempts (badly) to apply for jobs and fails (miserably), Kate gives her goddaughter the option of working off her "debt" by volunteering at the thrift store.
The volunteer gig isn't all bad, because of Emma and Alex. Emma is a beautiful teen Phoebe's age, but with some dark secret in her past. Alex is Emma's brother, who has Down's Syndrome. He's an excellent people person and is an absolute wiz at hand-selling merchandise. Phoebe on the other hand is totally socially awkward and has no idea how to talk to people. She has no clue how to ask Emma about her secret, and in fact, if she ever has a question about anything — from Judaism to sex — she just Googles it. When Polly comes back into Phoebe's life wanting to discuss her terrible sexual encounters with Tristan, Phoebe goes down an online research rabbit hole about female genitalia and the female orgasm.
But what Phoebe thinks about even more is Emma and her very blue eyes and her soy chai lattes and the mysterious boy in her Instagram profile pic. By the time Phoebe realize it's a crush, she's in the middle of exams and she doesn't have time for a crush. Isn't that always the way? The complications of life come and go and keep bringing the two of them closer together, but is Phoebe cut out for a serious relationship like this? Is she even capable of properly falling in love with a person? And why isn't this on Google?
Phoebe's untraditional, first person, very teenage narrative is full of asides, bulleted lists, and conversations formatted almost like theater scripts (instead of "she said," it's "she was like:"). There are no formal chapters, just dated diary headers, each accompanied by a clever hashtag. The bite-sized chunks take some getting used to, but ultimately they contribute to the steady pace of Phoebe's tale and take us so intimately into Phoebe's psyche that we genuinely care how all the chaos turns out in the end.
Phoebe maintains an air of apathetic snark reminiscent of Jaye Tyler from Wonderfalls — I found myself barking out loud at her biting commentary on a regular basis. (And on a personal level, it was a relief to finally read about a smart female protagonist who didn't hate math!) Despite being so low-key, Phoebe still manages to stand out — a tough thing to do when surrounded by such an enthusiastic, colorful cast, but Bruggemann succeeds with style. Love might be for losers in the end, but this fabulous book was definitely for me!
Alethea Kontis is a voice actress and award-winning author of over 20 books for children and teens.