I was alone.
In the dark.
In a box.
At the edge of the world.
And then the most extraordinary thing happened.
I got a book.
It wasn’t a gift.
It wasn’t a swap.
It wasn’t a purchase.
It was won.
Having been nothing for so long, I felt compelled to pick up that book.
Once the book was begun, I could not put it down.
And I just knew.
Knew that this book was going to change everything.
Not because it was the most fantastic book ever read.
Nor the worst.
Not wholly remarkable really.
But it made me care.
Care to read.
Care to stop staring at the TV.
Or play Minions Paradise.
Or Minion Rush.
I felt compelled.
Compelled to finish a book.
To think about what that means.
To think at all outside the work box.
To share those thoughts.
Though no one might care.
And I felt obligated.
To give a voice to those thoughts.
Though no one might listen.
To let the author know she is valued.
Because I have an opinion.
And all opinions matter.
And finally, because it is a book that I won.
And I was so profoundly happy to receive it.
And to say thank you.
For helping me find myself.
And to find my voice.
It is still a little hoarse.
And unused to vocalizing.
How to Make Out By Brianna R. Shrum
Book Description (From Amazon):
Sixteen-year-old Renley needs three thousand dollars for the math club’s trip to New York City, and she knows exactly how to get it: she’s going to start a how-to blog where people pay for answers to all of life’s questions from a “certified expert.” The only problems: 1) She doesn’t know how to do anything but long division and calculus. 2) She’s totally invisible to people at school. And not in a cool Gossip Girl kind of way.
So, she decides to learn to do . . . well . . . everything. When her anonymous blog shifts in a more scandalous direction and the questions (and money) start rolling in, she has to learn not just how to do waterfall braids and cat-eye makeup, but a few other things, like how to cure a hangover, how to flirt, and how to make out (something her very experienced, and very in-love-with-her neighbor, Drew, is more than willing to help with).
As her blog’s reputation skyrockets, so does “new and improved” Renley’s popularity. She’s not only nabbed the attention of the entire school, but also the eye of Seth Levine, the hot culinary wizard she’s admired from across the home-ec classroom all year.
Soon, caught up in the thrill of popularity both in and out of cyberspace, her secrets start to spiral, and she finds that she’s forgotten the most important how-to: how to be herself. When her online and real lives converge, Renley will have to make a choice: lose everything she loves in her new life, or everyone she loves in the life she left behind.
Cyberspace can be dangerous waters. Once you put it out there, it’s out there. You can fry your internal hard drive. Recall the post. Drop your laptop, phone or tablet in a lake, or toilet, but your cyberself lives on. What you have shared on the web, stays on the web. Somewhere. In some form. It can always be found. If there is anything binge-watching Bones and Castle has taught me, it’s that.
Maybe I’m too old school, or maybe too old, and not adventurous enough, but I personally don’t put a lot out there. I’m not linked in or any of those other apps that allow you to check in every step you make every second of the day, every day of the week and so on. If I had, the world would see that I have not moved off my couch for many a month. Having been newly indoctrinated into the worlds of Bones and Castle, I had a lot to catch up on. But I digress.
Yes, I do realize I have this vehicle for communicating and sharing my thoughts and opinions on the internet. And while I have shared some things about my life past and present, there are just things I would never share. Bit I digress again. Or I still digress.
Whichever, the digressing is still occurring.
My niece, who is soon to be 13, was 11 when she asked me if I knew how she could make money on You Tube. Not when she graduated high school or college. Now. She posts videos of animal stuff. She volunteers at an exotic pet store/bat and animal rescue. So she knows her stuff. Really. Struggling with math and reading, but she knows about animals.
The point is, I was horrified to learn she had a You Tube channel. She’s had it since she was at least 10, if not younger. Slightly less horrifying to find out it is a protected channel by invite only, but still. That is something I never would have allowed. And it makes me realize how much separates me from the current generation. This is a fact of life today. Social media, internet awareness, cyber lives are all part of today’s generation and were never part of mine.
This all does have a point and on this point I found it hard connect with Renley, but on the whole, I found her to be relatable. We’re all a little bit messed up inside.
Renley is a nobody. An invisible person. It’s not that she doesn’t have friends and people don’t know who she is, but she just doesn’t matter. To anyone of any import in the school. Parents are divorced. Dad cheated and she is now living with her dad and his new wife, the former mistress, who is a heck of a lot younger and super happy about life and everything. Renley’s dad is trying to force the concept that the new stepmonster is a replacement for the mother that didn’t fight or want custody. Stacey, the new wife, keeps referring to herself as Renley’s mother.
Renley’s best friend and next door neighbor, Drew, is a man-whore. She spends most of her time at his house and stays over late, often sleeping over in the same bed. Renley’s dad being guilty about tearing his family apart never disciplines her. While he may speak to her of her behavior, he ends up backing down, avoiding confrontation and eye contact. Drew’s mom is single and she is living life on the wild side. She parties and brings home men she meets. She doesn’t judge anything Drew does, just tells him to put a necktie on his door so she doesn’t barge in. She doesn’t care that Drew brings home a new girl practically every night.
Both Renley’s dad and Drew’s mom think Renley and Drew are sleeping together.
They’re not. (Well, not sleeping sleeping together. They sleep together, but you know, with their clothes on.)
Drew has however, confessed his undying love and devotion to Renley, but she will not have him.
And if you can’t have the one you love, well, you all know the rest.
They are all pretty messed up.
What triggers the chain of events that unfold in the story is a trip. To NYC. The math club, of which Renley is a member as well as her other best friend, April, is going to the Big Apple. April is going, but Renley has mixed emotions. One, her dad is not made of money and he can’t foot the bill for the trip, so Renley would need to make money on her own. Two, her mom moved to New York and has a new family now, with a new baby. She never contacts Renley and never answers any of Renley’s calls, texts or emails. On the one hand, she would like to see her mother but on the other, she’s afraid her mother will not care or want to see her. But April really wants her to go and she doesn’t want to let April down, so she agrees to go. Or to try.
What can she do to make money? She’s smart and good at tutoring. So she decides to start a blog, an anonymous blog, where she can give “How to” instructions. The first one? How to do Long Division.
Editorial comment: Seriously, if you need to look that up on a blog, pack it in. You ain’t graduating high school, if you even make it there. : Editorial end.
But let’s roll with it. The plan is to start blogging free instructional posts and once she has gained a fan base, to start charging for answers. She will charge the requester and anyone else who wants to read the answer. She figures she’ll make enough money off the blog in 7 months to be able to finance the trip. The catch - She is going to learn how to do everything she answers on her blog. The requests start out innocent enough, but become increasingly more scandalous.
Just how far is she willing to go? And where does she draw the line. With her blog gaining in readers, her popularity takes an upward turn. People start to notice her. Not because they know she writes the blog, but because she is forced to put herself out there to learn how to do the things she’s responding to. When the hottest guy in the school notices her, what is she going to do?
And what happens when Renly 2.0 threatens to obscure everything Renley 1.0 is deep inside? Will she lose everything she has to become who she might be? And is that someone she wants to be? What happens when cyber world and real world collide?
For these answers and more, you will just need to read the book. Shhhh. Spoilers!
Thank you to Sky Pony for the Advanced Reading Copy provided through the GoodReads First Reads program.