The Fine Art of Truth or Dare
by Melissa Jensen
Speak/ February 16, 2012
Ella is nearly invisible at the Willing School, and that’s just fine by her. Still, it’s hard being a nobody and having a crush on the biggest somebody in the school: Alex Bainbridge. Especially when he is her French tutor, and lessons have started becoming, well, certainly more interesting than French ever has been before. (Taken from Goodreads.)
- Fiorella Marino- I liked Ella, on the whole I found her to be smart, witty, and endearing. I thought she was the perfect combination of normal but also slightly offbeat, left of center teenage girl. As a former teenage girl myself, I totally related to her seemingly hopeless crush on a boy who is way out of her league. I love her cynical yet very funny view of The Willing School. The first chapter describing some of the “Willing Girls” from days past (Gertrude Wharton- ‘Willing Oral Girl of the Year’ and the award for ‘Willing Service to the Soldiers of the Great War’) was hilarious so I liked Ella’s voice from the start. Ella and her circle of friends are basically the social outcasts of the school and here’s why: 1) Ella’s from a working class family, her parents own a family run Italian restaurant, so no summer vacations in France for her 2) she’s into art, which technically isn’t cool until college. When I was in school, art kids ranked just above band kids in the social pecking order 3) and this is probably the big one, the one that seems to clench it for Ella: she’s got a large burn scar covering her right shoulder and extending to parts of her chest and lower neck. The scar was from a horrible accident when Ella was just seven, so she has been living with it nearly all her life. The scar, more than anything, keeps Ella from holding her head high and standing up for herself when some of the more vicious students at the school ignore or worse, ridicule her.
- I liked Ella’s friends- That would be Frankie and Sadie. Frankie is sort of your stereotypical gay BFF (think Ricky from My So Called Life but much, much hotter. Like Korean fashion model hot.) He’s also lower income so he shares many of the same views on money as Ella. He’s funny, fabulous, and tells it like it is. Sometimes Frankie REALLY tells it like it us, to the point of harshness, but his heart is always in the right place. He’s there to look out for his girl Ella and of her two friends, Frankie is definitely the stronger influence (and personality.) The other member of the trio is Sadie. Sadie is wealthy, but what keeps her from rising to a higher social status at the school is her shyness and utter lack of self confidence, aggravated by her weight and appearance obsessed mother. Sadie for the most part is like a little mouse, until she opens her mouth and sings. Not at school, but karaoke at their favorite hangout. Sadie has the voice of a siren, and when she is onstage she is utterly mesmerizing. Once she’s offstage, she’s a mouse again. She’s supportive of Ella too, but needs Ella’s support even more. I think she’s an interesting character and would like to have learned a little more about her. And I should also include Daniel. He’s not really part of the group, but he does make a few memorable appearances in the book. Daniel is Frankie’s twin brother, but he doesn’t attend their private school (he’s in public school), he’s also beautiful and straight (and a player) and he’s reputed to be a gang member. Oh, and he’s in a band. So he would qualify as the hot bad boy type (which is probably why I love him and wish there was a book just about Daniel.)
- Ella’s awesome Italian family- This is, without a doubt, my favorite aspect of the book. Seriously. Without the inclusion of Ella’s family, specifically her Nonna and her dad, this book wouldn’t be near as enchanting, and I don’t think I would love it as much. Her family is very much like the one in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Loud, brash, and loving. I’m Italian, and though my family wasn’t like this one, I can totally relate and see parts of my own family echoed in Ella’s. I love Melissa Jensen’s humorous writing and clever dialogue, and in my opinion, the passages featuring Ella’s family are the star’s of the show. Those characters are so wonderfully written that I felt like I was reading about my own dad or grandmother. I loved it.
Mom shoves from her side: “Such a diamond in the rough! Everyone can see that, Gorgeous bones. Bright as anything, absolutely endless potential, just needs some work…” She speaks in Realtor-ese. I don’t think she can help it.
Nonna shoves from her side: “Bellissima! Bella bella Fiorella. No, no, no purple! Always green, like the spring…” She spend a lot of time telling me how bella I am. Apparently it’s okay now that the damage has been done. She puts all of her ninety-odd pounds behind the word, so it always sounds kind of like she’s spitting, cursing the curse of the curse. That’s Nonna. I think maybe she believes that if she says it often enough and with enough force, it’ll come true. Or I’ll buy it, like the emperor’s clothes.
I absolutely love that passage. It illustrates beautifully not only how Ella feels about herself in terms of her scar (Apparently it’s okay now that the damage has been done) but also gives the most lovely analogy of the two matriarchal figures of the family, and their unwavering belief in the beauty and potential of Ella (And they love me with the same combination of high hopes and fierce, if misguided, helpfulness, leaning on me like mismatched bookends.) A pair of mismatched bookends, supporting her on both sides, holding her up and letting her know with absolute clarity that no matter what life throws her way, Ella’s family will be there for her.
- The John Hughes 8o’s movie references- and there were a TON of them! So many in fact that I wrote them all down in list formation to make a count! I won’t type up the list now but here are some of the highlights: obvious comparison’s to both Pretty in Pink’s Andy and Blaine, as well as Steph and Bennie (remember the James Spader character and his obnoxious, shallow girlfriend?), and comparison’s to Sixteen Candles’ Samantha and Jake. And Ella’s older sister is getting married, and garnering much of the families attention because of it, just like Sam’s sister Jenny is getting married (remember, to the oily bohunk:) Perhaps my very favorite similarity between the John Hughes’ classics and TFAoToD is Ella’s very touching relationship with her dad. There is a scene in Sixteen Candles where Sam and her Dad have a heart to heart about boys (remember, Sam’s dad comes in to apologize for forgetting her birthday) well we have a scene like that between Ella and her dad as well. Ella is home “sick” and her dad comes in with soup.