Friday, November 15, 2013

The Cute Girl Network

Don't you wish there were places where you could get the dirt on a potential boyfriend/girlfriend before you got too involved? Well, there kind of already are, like this website, but in this book there is a physical manifestation of such a website called the Cute Girl Network. These women share information about their ex-boyfriends (not ex-girlfriends, though, because I saw no overtly lesbian members in the book) in Brookport (a thinly veiled version of Brooklyn). Having a report about the personal interactions between two consenting adults is somewhat subjective and open to debate, topics that this book tackles in a fun, thoughtful, and inviting way.

Jane is a skateboarder who is not so traditionally female. At least she does not seem very much into princesses, pink, or sparkly things. If you went to that magazine link, you saw just how male-dominated the skating scene is. Jane is rough and tumble, able to deal with the casually sexist and boorish behavior of her co-workers at the skate shop.
Jack is a "Soup Dude," a street salesman who doles out the hot broth to his customers. He's klutzy, not-too-bright, rough around the edges, and relatively broke. The two meet, sparks fly, and they end up dating. Things become complicated when the Cute Girls learn of this, because they have a rap sheet on Jack and they don't think he is quite worthy of dating Jane. Jack has the input of his roommates, but they are way less organized, and one of them is quite neanderthal.
I thought this book was great at capturing people's relationships, warts and all. There were a couple parts where I felt the exchanges between Jane and Harriet, who seems to be the leader of the Cute Girl Network, verged into talking head territory, but for the most part the interactions and relationships were fresh, vital, and realistic. I also think the artwork was an effective combination of realism and cartoon, propelling the well-paced narrative and providing a canvas for a good mix of emotion, humor, and romance. There are some profanity and sexual situations in this book as well as a number of verbal and visual potty jokes, so I suggest it for older adolescent readers.

Also, I should add, one of the best parts of the book for me was the knock-off of Twilight the Network women talk about at their book club. Their talk was full of interesting points in debating the book's merits. I know to some extent that book is low-hanging fruit, but I still thought the fake chapter excerpt in the back matter of the graphic novel was pretty funny.
This book is a collaboration  between authors Greg Means, MK Reed, and artist Joe Flood. Means runs Tugboat Press and also edits the comics anthologies Papercutter and Runner Runner. Reed wrote the graphic novel Americus and also is working on the webcomic About a Bull. Flood is known for his graphic novel Orcs: Forged for War. This interview by Rebecca Angel with the creators gets at the origins and creation of The Cute Girl Network.

I very much enjoyed reading this compelling story, and the reviews I have read online have been positive. Christina Franke wrote, "The Cute Girl Network is funny, thoughtful, and adorable, with art that works well with the story." Nick Smith gave the book 4 out of 5 stars and wrote that "the story comes to a very satisfying conclusion." Meg Stivison praised the scope of the book: "Besides Jack and Jane’s adorably oddball romance and Jane’s relationship with her male-dominated skating hobby, The Cute Girl Network is a great story about a certain stage of life: houses full of roommates, dates without spending any money, and walking to the the store on a midweek day off to pick up a paycheck."

There are links, previews, and extras available from the book's official site.

The Cute Girl Network was published by First Second. Thank you, Gina, for the review copy!

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