The very funny web site Go Fug Yourself, which tackles red-carpet fashion adventures and has entire categories for things like formal shorts and feathers, used to have a sidebar that included some of the more negative comments its writers, Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan*, had received. One in particular used to make me laugh every single time I read it. It said, as I recall, "Your tiny black hearts must be made of tar."
But the thing that's made the site so successful is precisely that they do not have tiny black hearts made of tar — there's a fundamental humaneness behind all the teasing. That's why they love to salute great outfits as well as bad ones, and it's why they use mostly red-carpet photos, as opposed to people caught looking their worst on the way to the CVS to medicate a sinus infection, because who wants to live in that world?
That same delightful mix of the barbed and the beautiful shows up in the new YA novel Spoiled, also written by the "Fug Girls" (as they are known). The setup is pure Dynasty (and I think they'd take that as a compliment): Regular girl Molly Dix's mother dies, and she's sent to live with the father she's never known, who turns out to be Hollywood superstar actor Brick Berlin — who already has a thoroughly Hollywood-ized teenage daughter named Brooke. All of this, I stress, is superficially silly on purpose. It's not an accident when you name a guy "Brick."
Brooke has always been able to wrap her dad around her little finger (her mother is absent as well), and Molly represents a very unwelcome intrusion on her wealthy little world.
So it's the story of a regular kid plunged into Hollywood and the world of the paparazzi, and it's the story of two girls with separate struggles relating to their dad, and it's the story of sisters figuring out how to get along. What it isn't, very refreshingly, is dating-obsessed: There are a couple of boys in it, but they're mostly beside the point.
From a story perspective, it's pretty straightforward but high-quality young adult fiction. The overall arc of the tale isn't unexpected — it bends toward reconciliation and the valuing of important personal relationships, as it should.
But the execution is where the book shines. It's a wicked satire of Hollywood and its aggressive tendency to be appalling, where one kid can be named "Arugula" and another may or may not have been named "Spalding" after having her father sell naming rights to the tennis-ball company. Every fictional project — Brick's movie Avalanche!, for instance, or a potential Howie Mandel biopic called No Deal — is just true enough to feel right, but just weird enough to be funny.
And throughout, the authors show the same ability they've displayed on their site to write a joke, a quality that's often sorely missing from novels that are supposed to be funny but can't get past "wry," which is good but different.
Consider this question Brooke asks herself when her father doesn't understand what a trial Molly's arrival will be for her: "How could a guy who'd given himself Lasik as an Arbor Day present be so blind?" There's a lot of joke there: he (1) gave himself; (2) Lasik; (3) as a gift; (4) for Arbor Day, which (5) she connects to the metaphorical blindness of someone who doesn't understand. Spoiled is full of lines like that — things that are just fun, funny, well-crafted pieces of writing.
Like a lot of books that are designed for younger audiences, this one certainly has plenty of goodies buried in it for adults who choose to read it — if you're 14, there's a good chance you don't know why it's funny that the fake name "Ms. Chanandler Bong" is used, but if you watched Friends, there's a good chance you do. But even more of the laughs are just plain old broad-appeal good stuff, like a brief mention of the fact that "one of the Real Housewives Of Santa Fe threw her pottery wheel at a photographer." There aren't any RHOSF, of course, but there certainly could be, and ... that's about what you might expect them to do.
Spoiled isn't just great summer reading for young audiences; it's great summer reading for anyone. It's warm, it's smart, it's very funny, and it holds tightly to the philosophy that young readers may have slightly different thematic appetites than adults do — especially when they're aiming to be entertained — but that's no excuse to slack off on the quality of the writing or especially the comedy.
*Full disclosure: I know Heather and Jessica a little; we all recapped at Television Without Pity at the same time a few years back. I believe I met them in Vegas once or twice. But if I wrote nice things about the work of everyone I've met in Vegas, well — THAT'S A JOKE.