The Pains of Being Mostly Good at Heart

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A few years ago, I heard about this woman in Park Slope, Leila Sales, who had a crazy cell phone that got any text message sent to a “Leila” on the Verizon network. I wrote about her and her hilarious blog, The Leila Texts, where she has been recording her responses to these random texters, and soon she began writing for us on occasion. (She’s the one responsible for such gems as Brits in Brooklyn and Karaoke Calendar).

Now Sales has a brand-new YA book out–her debut novel–called Mostly Good Girls. This is actually the first YA (Young Adult) book I’ve read since I was still into Sweet Valley High (AKA Mostly Slutty/Stupid Girls), and it’s heartening to know that my 2-year-old has books about smart, funny girls to look forward to instead of books about dumb, blonde twins.

Mostly Good Girls follows the witty Violet at an all-girls prep school during her junior year. Her best friend Katie succeeds at everything she touches without trying (like the PSATs); Violet studies like mad to ensure her inevitable Ivy League acceptance. She also obsesses over a boy named Scott Walsh, and edits the school’s literary magazine, The Wisdom, where she slogs through truly awful submissions like rhyming poems about anorexia.

The book is extremely identifiable if you were one of those over-achieving, or even slightly aspiring types who was anxious about success and college acceptance. (Rebecca Serle interviewed Leila about the extreme pressure we put ourselves through then and now.) Mostly Good Girls also brings back memories of the very narrow definition of success within academia that stifles creativity–and of ridiculous, mandatory rites of passage like Driver’s Ed, which Sales parodies.

For me, the highlight of the book is the dynamic between Violet and Katie. We meet them in the prime of their best friend glory, and see the best friend breakup coming as Katie stops being so straight-laced and doing what everyone, including Violet, expects from her. Their falling out speaks to that significant, coming-of-age realization that as your friends grow and change, your friendship and understanding of them has to evolve, too, or it won’t last in any meaningful way. (Which isn’t always a bad thing.) Katie and Violet’s friendship survives, but there is a sweet, comedic twist at the end comes as a surprise.

Leila is working on her second book now, with an absurdly funny premise. As she tells Serle, “It’s about a girl who is a colonial reenactor and she falls for a boy who is a civil war reenactor and they can’t be together because ‘they come from different times.’ ” She’s also reading Saturday, Oct. 16 at 4 at the Burlington, MA Barnes and Noble (if you happen to be in those parts). To find out about other readings, become a fan on facebook.

And buy the book!

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