The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting
London, Usborne, 2014, 448p
It has taken me a little time to come to terms with my thoughts on this book due to the sensitivity of the content. The Manifesto on How to be Interesting is a novel I want to recommend, but it is loaded with issues that should be approached with caution.
Bree is an academic, creative student. She is a writer. But when she presents her manuscript to her favourite teacher, his reaction disappoints. So Bree decides to embark on a mission to become popular, in the hope that a more interesting life will produce more interesting literature.
The process is relatively easy for Bree - her parents are wealthy, and her father works with a make up manufacturer, meaning she has instant access to treats to share with her new, popular friends. All it takes is some more fashionable clothes to make everyone realise Bree is fairly attractive, and she has the personality to match. Along the way, her relationship with her best friend suffers; but soon, her crush is taking more of an interest and people around school talk about her in a different way.
Bourne's novel is a little bit Mean Girls, but with added complexity. For one, Bree's crush is directed towards her English teacher; and secondly, Bree self-harms. Such issues are not easy to tackle in young adult literature - the fantasy element of fiction means many characters who self-harm are blessed with a moment of epiphany when they turn their lives around; many real girls are not so lucky.
The underlying message of the book is to encourage the reader to be happy in who they are, and to acknowledge that we all suffer from lapses in confidence, even the most popular kids in school. But the challenge that I am left with is how to talk about these matters with my students - not every life has such a happy ending.