Life As Seen on TV
What I Loved:
Bonnie™ Baker has been on television for almost all of her life. She was even born on camera. The first thirteen years of her life, or seasons as she thinks of them, she was one of the stars of Baker’s Dozen, a reality TV show about her family. The hook of the show is that the Bakers have thirteen children in the family, of which Bonnie is the only one her mother actually gave birth to. Two, Benton™ and Lexie™ were delivered by surrogates, and are just about the same age. The rest were adopted, from the US and foreign countries. Following her parents’ divorce, the reality show ended and Bonnie is finally beginning to live some semblance of a normal life four years later. But then her mother and step-father, Kirk, announce a new show: Baker’s Dozen: Fresh Batch.
Something Real focuses on what an unhealthy environment the reality show is to grow up in. You may have noticed the ™ symbol following the character names. Bonnie™ doesn’t feel like a person anymore; she feels like a product. When she was younger, the cameras were just a fact of life, but now, after the brief bit of freedom, the Metareel film crew and rules are even more stifling.
YA parents are often absolutely horrid, but the Benton parents get a place in the special hell with child molesters and people who talk at the movies. Beth™ especially is so obviously manipulating her children for a chance at fame. When she first started out, it was about the children, but now everything she does is so planned. She’s acting the mom and not being one. She feigns concern so that she can fulfill the role that she’s playing and sell books, but she doesn’t seem to actually care about her children. It seems that the older siblings do more to raise the young ones, even. Beth™ completely ignores the fact that Bonnie™ is falling apart, and instead blames her daughter for everything.
Bonnie™ has a really nice character arc. She starts out so unaware of who she is, going by Chloe in school and trying to escape everything about Bonnie™. Her default setting is to run away from her problems, to avoid them. As time passes, she learns that she needs to make a change before her life is entirely ruined. She gets less passive and goes on a journey to find herself without the whole Bonnie™ Baker thing weighing her down.
My favorite character, though, is Benton™, her brother. They have just the best sibling dynamic. They’re truly friends, and they watch out for each other. This is probably the best brother/sister relationship I’ve seen in YA. I also like the way their relationships with their sister Lexie™ evolve throughout the book.
Benton™ also happens to be gay and to have a boyfriend, Matt, who’s a football player. If you do not think they are the cutest thing, I honestly can’t even with you. They have such a healthy relationship and I loved every single thing about them, especially that neither one of them was stereotypical in any way. I LOVED EVERY SINGLE THING. Okay, I didn’t like that Benny smoked, but acting out and all that; both Bonnie™ and Matt gave him hell for it.
What Left Me Wanting More:
Bonnie™ also has a romance, and it IS cute, but it’s also the one thing I didn’t like about the book. It’s TOO cute. Patrick and Bonnie™ have a great connection, and I was really on board at first. However, aside from being a bit grungy, Patrick is PERFECT. He is a hundred percent supportive of Bonnie™ at all times. He has apparently been into her from the very first moment they met. He was the only other person trusted with Benny and Matt’s secret love. He had told his parents all about Bonnie™ before they were dating, like some kid on a 50s sitcom. He’s not bothered by the tabloid coverage of their relationship. Every choice he makes throughout the book puts Bonnie™ first. They’re so healthy as to be entirely unbelievable. I will say that Demetrios manages mostly to keep them from being saccharine, but I still was rolling my eyes by the end, especially one scene towards the end.
I also felt like the ending was just generally a bit too idealized. After all of that trouble and serious stuff that Bonnie™ was going through, it seems to have been resolved very easily. Nothing’s really said about what happened to a particular plot point, but I can't get into that without spoilers.
The Final Verdict:
Heather Demetrios’ Something Real is a fabulous debut novel, and I will most definitely be reading whatever this woman writes. This is a must read for contemporary readers looking for reality television, family dynamics or LGBT themes.
Bonnie Baker grew up on television as one of the stars of Baker’s Dozen, a reality show about her parents’ dream to have a large family and their lives afterward. The show’s been off the air for four years and Bonnie, now Chloe, has managed to keep out of the spotlight and has had a normal life. She’s happy. Then comes the news that Baker’s Dozen is going back on the air, and Bonnie’s mom and the show’s producer don’t care that Bonnie wants nothing to do with it. She’ll either have to cope with her new life being exposed or find a way to get off the show.
I was honestly not expecting to be so blown away by this book from the description. It seemed like it would be a nice, fluffy type read. What I got instead was something that became my favorite book so far this year. It was funny and had depth with great characters. I put it down for work then dove straight back into it when I got home and kept reading until 2am when I finished it.
The characters in this book were all amazing in their own way. Chloe, who worked so hard to be under the radar at her school so no one will make the connection between Chloe and Bonnie. She was so easy to empathize with and I really just wanted to see her get everything she wanted because it was so simple. She just wanted a normal life. The show left her with major anxiety and we got to see her struggle to overcome it and discover who she is. Benton, Chloe’s brother and fellow Baker’s Dozen hater, had such a great relationship with her. These were the two who got the most focus and the bond between them was something special. Lexie, sister, appeared a little less since she attended a different school, and at times it was easy to dislike her but she definitely grew on me throughout the book. The other kids didn’t appear as much as they were all younger and didn’t play a huge role but the sibling bond was still there. Chloe’s friends Tessa and Meredith were absolutely awesome and I loved seeing such strong female friendships so present. And then there was Patrick. Every girl needs a Patrick in her life. He was so sweet and understanding and encouraging and so perfect for Chloe.
There were definitely characters to direct hate at as well. Chuck, the producer of the show, was so slimy and fake and a bully. I really wanted to see him fail. Chloe’s parents were a little harder to outright dislike since it did seem like they, in their minds, thought they were doing the right thing but so many of the children had some kind of issue that I couldn’t be on their side. They seemed blind to the real problems in their kids’ lives and the way they allowed the show to portray certain events was despicable.
The book was mainly set in the present but every once and again there were flashbacks, in the form of a past interview or a scene from the TV show. I loved how we saw that reality TV is still not completely reality, things get twisted and cut and edited to make it look however the producer wants all for ratings, the kids get labels put on them like bookworm, jock, sexy. There’s tabloids to deal with and with twitter/facebook/instagram/etc, anyone at anytime could leak details of their day very easily. The book also brings up some really good points about the children and who’s looking out for them when they’re staring in shows like this without fully understanding what it means.
From the beginning to the end, I was on Chloe’s side. The more she became aware of how she was treated and manipulated the first time the show was on, the more I wanted to see her take the whole MetaReel company down. The lighter moments, Chloe and Benny interactions, Chloe and Patrick, were a nice contrast to the darker ones, Chloe and her mother, Chloe and Chuck. The slow romance between Chloe and Patrick was especially nice, no insta-love, we got to see them work through issues.
I also love all the quotable moments in this book. It was full of them.
This is definitely a book I will be re-reading.