By Casey Wilson
Messy is the follow-up to writing team Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan’s debut YA novel Spoiled. Cocks and Morgan – better known here on the internet as “The Fug Girls” because of their immensely popular celebrity fashion blog Go Fug Yourself – proved with Spoiled that they have a marvelous touch when it comes to poking at Hollywood culture, and in their sophomore novel they continue to produce a fun and funny world.
Admittedly, Messy’s plot plays out almost exactly as you expect it would upon meeting the characters. Max – an aspiring writer in need of money to attend a summer workshop at NYU – takes a job writing a personal blog for Brooke Berlin, daughter of one of the most famous actors in the world, half-sister to Max’s best friend Molly, and aspiring actress. And, of course, there are boys: Jake, the sweet but dim quarterback Max has crushed on for years and Brady, Brooke’s smart, self-effacing co-star who just so happens to love her blog. Hello, Cyrano.
But there are different kinds of predictable, and Messy’s characters are where you get the real surprises. Brooke, one of the two central figures in Spoiled, continues to be more than just a bratty little girl riding on her daddy’s coattails – she is instead an insecure young woman who would do just about anything for her father’s approval, and who is willing to put in the effort to make her dreams come true. Max is in many ways the stereotypical outcast writer chick, with her green hair and steel-toed boots, but she is blessedly self-aware of that fact. Jake could be just a goofy jock, but he’s a genuinely good guy who appreciates Max. And Brady – poor, confused Brady – is both an ideal love interest and an imperfect person. Cocks and Morgan show an incredible generosity of spirit to all those who appear in their pages, really. Even the most minor of characters – including one named Bone – are given small moments of shading.
It also helps that this book’s humor is real, pervasive, and incisive. The dream role that Brooke (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) lands with the help of the blog? Nancy Drew. The gritty revamp of the story is just the kind of thing I can’t believe hasn’t already happened – I mean, really, how has a “dark” version not been done? Similarly, the titles of the fake films and shows, including the ridiculous action movies that Brooke’s father, Brick, stars in, are the kind of so-close-to-the-mark-it’s-alarming parodies that the book is full of: Avalanche!, Kamikaze Dad, The Hangover 3D. In a world that just gave us Battleship, none of those would surprise me. There is always the risk that so many pop culture references will instantly date the book, and that may well be true. But there’s also something satisfying about a YA novel that can so breezily reference Twilight – it makes the world feel real, and lived in, and part of our own.
If you have to love something to parody it, then Cocks and Morgan clearly love the soapy stories of the rich and famous (and not-so-rich and not-so-famous) that they are teasing, mocking, and ultimately embracing here. This is a book that could not exist without Gossip Girl and reality TV and social media* – on about a thousand different levels – and as such the authors very wisely never take any of those things for granted. So do them a favor, and don’t take Messy for granted, either. Let the humanity behind the Hollywood plastic sheen surprise you.
*And for the record, it’s fantastic to see a novel that actually demonstrates an intimate understanding of the possibilities of social media without vilifying it.
Casey is a PhD student.