July 13, 2012
The English Roses: A Perfect Pair
GENRE: Romance (contemporary)
REVIEW: In the eighth installment of Madonna's popular English Roses series, the girls' attention is taken up by the upcoming Valentine's Day dance - except for the brainiest Rose, Nicole's. Nicole is entirely focused on the Science Fair and on beating a boy from another school. When it is announced that she must partner up with popular footballer, Jamie Somers for the project, Nicole is dubious. But lessons are learned when Nicole discovers that Jamie also has a brain in his head. After overcoming uncomfortable gossip and her own competitive nature, Nicole ends up winning on both the scientific and romantic fronts, as one might expect. A Perfect Pair is a rather anemic, slightly vacuous little novel whose five title characters, while ostensibly deeply individuated, blend together like bad watercolors - except for Nicole, whose academic intensity sets her slightly apart from the rest. The quippy narration occasionally charms, but mostly tries too hard (Madonna addresses the reader often, most of the time sounding a bit like your tipsy aunt trying to recapture her youth). Though there are some good messages here - girls can like science, stereotypes are always true, gossip is damaging - but the girls themselves undermine the narrator's well-intentioned assertions, as they happily focus the bulk of their attention on "girl-talk" and "perfecting their outfits for the dance".
OPINION: The Perfect Pair is like a little meringue - pretty, though there isn't much there. While not harmful in any way - the girls obviously care about each other and lessons are learned - there is a lot of "telling" here and very little "showing". It makes for a sweet but hollow read. Likewise, Nicole's romance with the boy from the other school is underdeveloped and tied together with an unsatisfying bow. With conflict that amounts to a tempest in teapot and a climax shimmers with "just so", The Perfect Pair will likely appeal to very young tweens, but there simply isn't enough substance to keep the attention for long.
IDEAS: A good book for a Valentine's display. Also a decent suggestion for reluctant readers and girls looking for light contemporary romance and books about female friendship.