In the spirit of full disclosure, I didn’t care for Cherry’s debut novel, Red. I’d had high expectations and they crash landed. After that, I wasn’t planning on trying her sophomore effort unless some trusted reviewers enjoyed it. Then one day I got an itchy request finger, but I didn’t expect much to come of it since RH usually doesn’t approve (or deny) my NG requests; they sit there until the title disappears. This time, though, approval. What have I gotten myself into? I wondered. Turns out the answer to that was a whole lot of fun. Cherry’s For Real is funny, fast-paced, and full of joy for anyone who enjoys reality television.
Actually, I don’t like reality television. I know what I just said, and I stand by it, but also it might be worth a shot for certain people who don’t care for it. Personally, it’s mostly not my thing. That said, I do know just how addictive it can be, because the couple times I watched a reality show I ended up watching the full season. I’d turn on the TV, watch part of an episode and get sucked into the all day marathon. Much as I can spout off about the manufactured drama and all of that, they can be very entertaining. What I do unabashedly love are books about reality television. As a teen, there were a smattering of chick lit novels with that premise that I loved and earlier this year Something Real impressed me greatly. For Real centers on a different kind of reality show than those, but it was just as delightfully silly while also being surprisingly meaningful.
My favorite thing about For Real is the humor that comes through sometimes. Cherry has this ability to embrace the silly that I admire. Her invented reality TV shows are complete gold. An example is Obstacle Kitchen, where chefs have to compete to make the best dish while also dodging obstacles.The show that Miranda and Claire go on in search of vengeance is a perfect example as well. The challenges ought to be too strange for me to believe that they would be aired on television, and yet I could totally imagine this airing.
There’s also the Limerick Game that Miranda and Claire play. Cherry’s humor really gets a chance to shine with these. They’re just the right amount of quirky and they made me smile every time they came up. Here’s an example:
“There once was a stripper named Troy,
Who acted quite dumb as a ploy.
He took off his pants,
Did a butt-shaking dance,
And said, ‘Viewers, I hope you enjoy!’
These are so cute and funny and bantery. It’s also such a great bonding device for Claire and Miranda. They’ve done it throughout their childhoods and it comes out when they’re getting along well.
For Real focuses primarily on the relationship between Claire and her sister Miranda. There’s a little bit of romance, but it’s mostly family. If you asked Claire and Miranda at the beginning of the book, as someone does, they would tell you that they have a great relationship. Under the pressure of reality television, it soon becomes clear that they have serious issues with one another. What’s nice is that the drama isn’t entirely manufactured. The show brings up cracks that were hiding under the surface and forces the sisters to recognize them and deal with them.
Let’s rewind a bit and talk about Claire on her own. Claire’s sometimes tough to take. I ought to have loved her immediately, because she’s a pop culture fanatic and can’t handle crowds. However, be warned that Claire can be a bit tough to take. She’s so judgmental that it made me uncomfortable and I’m one of the most judgmental people I know. It’s all made more annoying when Claire’s whole thing is that she wants people (especially Miranda) to look beneath her shy exterior and see how amazing she is, though she herself judges everyone else off their surface level. The thing is, though, that Claire gets better as the novel goes along.
The reality show is ridiculous, but it forces her to do things that she wouldn’t ordinarily do. She has to get outside of her comfort zone. It’s painful at times, but she survives and comes through the experience much stronger than she was before. Perhaps more important, Claire gets stuck talking to people she ordinarily would not give the time of day. I’ve been there myself and had these revelations. There’s nothing like getting to know real people better than from a distance to clear up those initial prejudices. When Troy, a male stripper, called her out for being rude and judgmental, I had the feeling that Claire would actually be learning and changing. She does, and I think her emotional arc is really solid. I also really liked the way her romance was handled.
The Final Verdict:
This is why I like giving authors second chances. Even if Red wasn’t your thing, you might like For Real. I’m definitely planning on checking out whatever Cherry’s third book is.