Everything about the premise of this book appealed to me. Sisters. Revenge. Reality TV. International travel. Romantic shenanigans. It sounded like exactly the sort of breezy, light read that would leave me with happy butterflies in my tummy and a goofy smile on my face. The kind of book that’s cozy like a pair of fuzzy slippers and a glass of lemonade. And it delivered in every way.
Miranda and Claire are not a saccharine-sweet pair of sisters — think less Meg and Beth, more Jo and Amy. They’re different in their interests, looks, personalities, insecurities. They’re the way I think lots of siblings are — two people who may not have ever chosen to spend much time interacting with each other if they hadn’t been raised under the same roof. It’s not that they’re incompatible; more that they’re not inherently complementary. But incongruities aside, they share a special bond, and I felt FOR REAL did a fantastic job exploring that dichotomy — sisters who love each other and are fiercely loyal to each other, despite how little they have in common.
I loved – loved – how their relationship was the driving force of the story. Miranda’s revenge on her sleazy ex-boyfriend, Claire’s awkward attempts to woo her charming crush, and the array of bizarre challenges they were forced to complete as contestants on Around the World were highly entertaining, but all the big emotional punches hinged on what was happening between the two sisters, as did most of the big shifts in motivation and stakes. It’s no big surprise that my favorite scene in the book — and one that may have provoked a few tears — was a quiet moment between the two sisters in the midst of all the crazy set pieces swirling around them. I loved the balance between the absurdity of what the characters were forced to do and the groundedness of the relationships. A book about competing on a ridiculous reality show needs to really drive home the authenticity in its characters and emotion, and I thought FOR REAL did a masterful job of that.
That said, the Around the World premise (and its unexpected and wholly inconvenient twist) was such wacky fun. Everything from the premise of the show, to the insane challenges, to the over-the-top contestants, to the polished host, to the zany twists was simultaneously outlandish and totally plausible in the current landscape of reality television. Following the characters through each challenge was as compulsively readable as actual reality TV is watchable. Plus I loved the snippets of different countries and cultures as the characters raced from one exotic location to another, even as the characters were frustrated that they didn’t really get to experience the different cultures because they were too busy smashing pomegranates and coating each other in pudding (yes, really).
As for the romance, all I’ll say is that FOR REAL is chock-full of the kind of witty banter and squishy moments and stolen glances that make for the best kind of romantic comedy — but that it never forgets its reality show premise, or that the primary focus of the book is the two sisters. So don’t expect conventional romance tropes to come into play here — in FOR REAL, the boys are the side show, never the main attraction.
All in all, if you’re a fan of great sister stories, or reality TV, or travel — or you’re just looking for a fun, quick, un-put-down-able read that makes you chuckle and groan and roll your eyes, all while tugging at your heartstrings and making you grin like a fool — then FOR REAL is the book for you.
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.