Novel: Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes | Goodreads
Release Date: September 2, 2014
Publisher: Harper Children’s
This emotional, hilarious, devastating, and ultimately triumphant YA debut, based on actual events, recounts one girl’s rejection of her high school’s hierarchy—and her discovery of her true self in the face of tragedy.
Fall’s buzzed-about, in-house favorite.
Outside, Anika Dragomir is all lip gloss and blond hair—the third most popular girl in school. Inside, she’s a freak: a mix of dark thoughts, diabolical plots, and, if local chatter is to be believed, vampire DNA (after all, her father is Romanian). But she keeps it under wraps to maintain her social position. One step out of line and Becky Vilhauer, first most popular girl in school, will make her life hell. So when former loner Logan McDonough shows up one September hotter, smarter, and more mysterious than ever, Anika knows she can’t get involved. It would be insane to throw away her social safety for a nerd. So what if that nerd is now a black-leather-jacket-wearing dreamboat, and his loner status is clearly the result of his troubled home life? Who cares if the right girl could help him with all that, maybe even save him from it? Who needs him when Jared Kline, the bad boy every girl dreams of, is asking her on dates? Who?
Anatomy of a Misfit is Mean Girls meets The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Anika’s hilariously deadpan delivery will appeal to readers for its honesty and depth. The so-sad-it’s-funny high school setting will pull readers in, but when the story’s dark foreboding gradually takes over, the devastating penultimate tragedy hits like a punch to the gut. Readers will ride the highs and lows alongside funny, flawed Anika — from laughter to tears, and everything in between.
This book took me by surprise.
Anika Dragomir was a smart half-Romanian girl living in Lincoln, Nebraska. Her father was a professor at Princeton who wasn’t one for affection, but called often to discuss her grades – a weak feature in her big family of half-siblings, her mom, and her stepfather “the ogre”. Her split heritage branded her at school as different, but her friendships with Becky Vilhauer (a mean girl with a startling amount of power) and her best friend Shelli saved her status. She knew just enough to get by as the third most popular girl.
When her childhood best friend Logan shows up out of the blue, with a motorcycle and some newfound confidence, Anika’s intrigued. He starts offering her rides home from school, and before she knows it, she’s drawn into his sinister family life. But when she catches the eye of Jared Kline, the enigma bad boy, she starts to doubt her relationship with Logan, especially when he reveals his pent-up anger.
From stealing from her boss to stopping the spread of malignant rumors, Anika was a mixed-up, likable, strange protagonist with a life that soon spiraled out of control to a stunning, horrifying climax.
It wasn’t light by any means. It was absorbing, and a bit sad, and vivid in all the ways that make up my favorite reads of 2014. It’s a read that feels alive. I ate up this one in two sittings flat, so it’s not necessarily time-consuming, but it’s worth it.
Anika’s voice was surprisingly endearing, bringing some plot threads that would normally be absurd into a startlingly funny, poignant mood. Her regular vernacular tossed around phrases like “spider stew” without regards to any normalcy, adding a sparkle to the pages even when situations got heavy. She had a dry voice that had a very straightforward delivery, even though her phrasing definitely contributed to her character.
I would have enjoyed more time spent on each relationship rather than the subplots, but the effortless unspooling of each subplot felt clean, which I appreciated. Everything either tied up or exploded, which is exactly how I like it: everything being important, and vaguely circular, and mattering. The subplots deal with quite a few varying characters. There’s Tiffany, the only black girl in Lincoln, Nebraska, who Anika has to defend against her racist boss. There’s Shelli, the school slut (and her best friend) with the obsessively Christian mom. There’s her mother, who treats Anika with a tenderness and understanding that truly made them my favorite mother-daughter duo of the year.
The relationships are depicted in a grey style. They aren’t the main focal point, but they spool into her school standing, family life, and more. None of the boys were black-and-white either, so it’s definitely an exercise in realism. Despite the quirky narration – not Manic Pixie by any means, don’t worry – both the boys are explored in ways that make them feel like somebody you’d meet off the street. Anika didn’t focus much on them, so they didn’t feel as fleshed out as they could have been.
I knew that Logan was capable of sweeping gestures of affection and stunning rallies of anger, despite being the school pariah. He showed up the next school year with an entirely new wardrobe and attitude, one that intrigued Anika. When he started offering her rides home, she accepted despite knowing that Becky Vilhauer would flip on her. When she started getting to know him, she was exposed to the deeply disturbing dynamics of his family, and his father. Logan dealt with his near-abusive father with a protective instinct that perhaps worked too well.
Jared was one who was also mixed-up. He was the type that everybody worshipped, the one who everybody told stories about. He was charismatic, surprisingly kind, and also just enough of a sensation where Anika wasn’t sure whether or not she could trust him. Sometimes he did seem exactly like the guy in the stories: aloof and manipulative. (I liked him a lot, by the way.)
Much of Anika’s inner turmoil was based on a love triangle, but it felt necessary. It wasn’t a throwaway angle, but one that mattered to the plot of the book and to all the characters within. Despite Anika’s confusion and insistence that her soul was made up of “spider stew”, she was a nice girl that I find to be memorable. The plot itself is rather meandering, but the vibrant array of characters sprawls out to where it never feels slow. It’s engaging despite a thoughtful pace, and much of the charm is derived straight from Anika Dragomir’s throwaway narration.
There are slurs and slut-shaming and all of that in there, but I don’t think that makes the book bad; I’m including it as a warning for people who may get offended. Instead, it regals those people in blunt, deadpan terms that are so integrally a part of Anika’s world. Considering she’s surrounded by a setting that feels straight out of Mean Girls, I completely understood why those terms were being used as a part of her voice. In fact, all of that leads to an ending that speaks out sharply against bullying and the skewed dynamics of the school.
The ending is powerful. It’s unmistakable, and it’s something that changes Anika’s life forever. Something similar happened in my city earlier this year and I can still see the impact. Throughout the book, a reminder of what it leads up to is inserted about every ten chapters, punctuating the narrative at exactly the right points. It’s a book that I was racing to finish because I had become attached to the characters despite their ambiguous descriptions and I knew that it was all leading up to one finale.
Quite simply, I enjoyed this book. It was a quick read with plenty of life stuffed in its pages, and the characters were weird in the best possible way. Anika Dragomir isn’t a protagonist that I’ll be forgetting anytime soon and the plot itself, well, that’ll be singed in my memory for a while.