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The Actual Real Reality of Jennifer JamesReview - The Actual Real Reality of Jennifer James
A Reality TV Novel
by Gillian Shields
HarperTeen, 2006
Review by Amy Ridley
Feb 6th 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 6)

Jennifer James is your average high school geek with one true friend Vickie and a growing crush on school babe Marcus who happens to be dating her nemesis Tallulah Perkins. Jennifer's main concern is getting out of London Road Comprehensive School so that she can indulge her love of books and academics. She knows she has no chance of this so she just tries to go under the radar but Tallulah makes sure that is not possible. When word gets out that their school is going to be the focus of a new reality show "Down the Bog" where celebrities teach the students and the public votes off a different student each week, Jennifer sees this as a chance to escape. The catch is that only a certain number of students can compete and the grand prize is a full scholarship to the exclusive St. Willibald's College. Somehow she is voted as one of the contestants and finds herself up against Tallulah.

Jennifer is easy to root for. She has a feminist mother who will not let her go on the show, let alone buy her new clothes for the TV cameras. Jennifer finds a secret ally who signs her permission slip. Her mother, who has changed her name to Jocasta, has even thrown out the family television so Jennifer cannot even watch herself on "Down the Bog". Jennifer finds herself being thrown together more and more with Marcus who does not seem as repulsed by her as his girlfriend does. Jennifer morphs from geek to one to beat before the camera's eyes.

Gillian Shields has written a sweet heroine in Jennifer that stays true to herself. She does not have a make-over and try to befriend Tallulah. She maintains her distaste for her rival and is able to exploit her competition. Jennifer keeps her true friends throughout the book rather than the cliché of becoming popular and then realizing who her real friends are. Jennifer's relationship with her mother is strained due to her mother's contempt for today's society. Jocasta's antics are over-the-top but still amusing. The reader is never quite sure about Marcus' intentions towards Jennifer which keeps the book moving along right up until the climax.

Jennifer learns a lot about herself throughout this process. She has help from many different people and finds herself a changed person at the end who is able to unmask a possible scandal on the show. She realizes how much she has grown and comes to some conclusions about her future that she may not have made two months ago.

© 2007 Amy Ridley

Amy Ridley received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Boston University.

 


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