Desert Isle Keeper
All American Girl
Books are keepers for many reasons. Some are intricately plotted. Some have fascinating, one-of-a-kind characters. Some are beautifully written with lush prose and thoughtful symbolism. And some just make you smile over and over until you sigh in happiness at the end. All-American Girl fits into the last category. We have another winner from Meg Cabot here.
Fifteen-year-old Samantha Madison is a character. She’s a middle child, which means she’s the chronically neglected one sandwiched between her fluffy, fashion-obsessed, super-popular older sister Lucy and her Great Brain, socially-challenged younger sister Rebecca. She thinks the only thing she has going for herself is her art. She certainly doesn’t have Lucy’s perfectly coifed titian hair (hers is copper-red, curly, and uncontrollable) or her studly boyfriend Jack, whose looks and artistic ability are only complemented by his ability to inspire loathing and fear in their parents.
Life is moving along smoothly enough for Sam (well, except for German class and Jack preferring Lucy to her) when her parents learn that her less-than- stellar marks in school can be traced back to her little side business. Sam draws pictures of teen hearthrobs like Josh Hartnett and Heath Ledger and, for a tidy fee, inserts the face and figure of whoever is paying beside the selected hottie. This venture has enabled her to blow off German class as well as pay for her ska music collection. Unfortunately for Sam, her parents put the kibosh on the whole thing and insist that she take drawing classes with famed artist Susan Boone so as to better channel her abilities.
Her first art class is a disaster when Susan Boone critiques her drawing in front of all the others. Sam is doubly embarrassed because a cute guy named David talked to her and admired her daisy-covered combat boots. Too humiliated to go back, Sam decides to skip the next class and just hang out at the music store until her housekeeper comes to pick her up. But just when she thinks she’s gotten away with it, the President of the United States makes an unexpected appearance on the street by the art studio and an assassin tries to kill him. In a moment of unthinking bravery, Sam foils the assassination attempt, and suddenly she’s a national hero. How will she deal with it all? The fame, the media, the pressure to be on Barbara Walters? And the unexpected attraction she feels for that art class boy, David, who turns out to be the President’s son?
Readers who have enjoyed Cabot’s other teen series The Princess Diaries will definitely find something to like here. The writing style is very similar, and both are written in the first person. Sam’s observations are filled with pop culture references, mild teen angst, and glimpses of both boldness and insecurity. She is in some ways very savvy and knowing and in other ways clueless and naïve. Compared to Princess Mia, Sam is more down-to-earth. Her life has fewer fantastical elements – she’s not a princess and her family is relatively normal. She is someone the average teen will be able to relate to and still admire as a strong character. She may have some flighty moments, but she believes in herself and her abilities and refuses to bow down to social pressure or do things that would compromise her integrity.
The actual story line of All-American Girl is somewhat unbelievable, but what Cabot does with it seems quite authentic. It’s unlikely that a teen girl would save the life of the President, but the reactions Sam has to her unusual situation are very natural and adolescent (in the best possible way). Her thoughts always seem in character, and that character is well crafted.
David as a hero is pretty endearing. He’s definitely a secondary character, but most enjoyable in that role. Still a little gawky, he’s nonetheless charming, generous, smart, and confident. Cabot must have a thing for the nerdy, straight-arrow hero in pursuit. All the books I’ve read by her have this type of guy. It’s certainly no problem for me though. I love the good- hearted geek.
Toward the end of the story, I was reminded faintly of the movie Clueless. Cher and Josh (the heroine and hero of that movie) are close, if not exact matches for Sam and David. Both Cher and Sam don’t realize who they really love until it’s almost too late, and both stories have the super sweet happy ending. Clueless is one of my favorite love stories, so any comparison to it is a compliment on my part.
All-American Girl was a very fun, very funny read all around. If you like young adult fiction and haven’t tried Meg Cabot yet, what are you waiting for? And if you haven’t read YA fiction, why not give it a whirl with this book? Cabot has a unique voice, highly memorable, and her books are guaranteed to entertain.