There are certain cliches one comes to expect after reading YA novel after YA novel: the gay best friend, the designer labels, the outcasts and mean girls. The Real Real takes a topic that is perhaps too ripe for satire (and is now getting play in real life with NYC Prep) and lends it an edge, humor and heart that makes it worth picking up and taking to the beach, Hamptons or not. There are, of course, some things I've seen before (the autistic brother, the housecleaner mother), but there's plenty here that makes The Real Real deliciously dishy.
Jesse is one of six high school seniors cast for XTV's The Real Hamptons Beach. She is not exactly classic reality TV material (she's not part of the It crowd, she has a boring part-time job at a muffin shop, she doesn't wear the latest designer gear), and had never expected to be chosen, but her and Drew are the non-wealthy cast members, lured in by the $40,000 scholarship being dangled before them. She's thrilled to have the chance to be alone with her crush, but not so thrilled when her best friend Caitlyn doesn't get cast and she quickly finds that she's signed over a lot more than the right to film her. Instead, "reality" becomes a carefully scripted fiction that McLaughlin and Kraus coyly nail, especially the sleazy, over-the-top producer, Fletch and his beleagured assistant, Kara.
The XTV overlords give these high school students the star treatment, including luxury meals and trips and glamour, but it all comes to a head on their big pre-spring break spring break. Yes, some of the characters here are little more than caricatures of high school types, like Jase, the annoying frat boy, and Trisha, the overly plastic surgeried young starlet, but they are so fun to hate that the authors are forgiven. The twists and turns of friendship, not to mention the lengths XTV will go to make their show a hit, or the lengths Jesse will go to win back her reputation, make this a winner that manages to indulge a bit in the flashy materialism of Gossip Girl and its ilk but also stand above it.
The ending is especially divine, and offered one of my favorite lines, with Nico, who starts out a spoiled brat but winds up being more than just a pretty, label-clad clone, exudes her charm. "'Oh, look!' she says, pointing at the poster like it was a kitten wrapped in puppies sprinkled with ducklings." These kinds of witticisms, mostly aimed at skewering the supposed glamour and hype of reality TV, make The Real Real a cut above the average teen chick lit. I hope there are more YA novels in McLaughlin and Kraus's future.