I picked up this quick read off of a recommendation and for the life of me I can’t remember exactly where … I’m thinking it was a writing group and we might have been talking about character voices. No, this isn’t a fantasy book. It’s an epistolary novel, meaning that the entirety of the prose is composed of letters, or in this case, folded notes. There are zero magical elements, mythical characters, or even speculative circumstances.
Sometimes it’s good to branch out… And sometimes, not so much. There were lots of good things in here but there were also things that made me a little nuts.
Tara considers herself practically perfect. She’s the best actress, on the cheerleading squad, and, like, super smart. She’s got a really good BFF who’s a bit more down to earth named Stephanie. Her big goal for her senior year is to score the lead in the school play, Grease. In the mean time, she also tries to give advice to a new freshman, Matt because her jock boyfriend thought it was a good idea.
The remainder of the story consists of Tara not getting what she wants, then lying to herself and the world that someone or something is plotting against her. She refuses to take responsibility for anything that happens and has no problem blaming what happens to her on literally anyone who has hurt her in the past. We see her impact on her friends as they write each other notes.
As we reach the end of Tara’s senior year, we see her desperation to get what she wants pushes her to take some fairly drastic actions.
The book blurb says it all, “Tara Maureen Murphy is any high school’s worst nightmare, bringing single-minded ambition, narcissism, manipulation, and jealousy to new extremes.”
To be fair, the writing itself was well voiced and I had no problem believing that this was High School in 1991. In fact, it was so close to my high school experience with bullies and brats, that it was almost uncomfortable to read.
If you’re going to write a story where the main character is meant to be a manipulative narcissist, then you have to have that character earn a surprising but inevitable fate. I wanted Tara to come out of this story having learned the error of her ways and grow as a person, instead of digging deeper into her self delusion.
In this story, we do see Tara get a small comeuppance from Matt who she played emotional ping pong with going from loving to hating to loving again depending on which of them scored roles in the school’s plays. Tara is really a jerk to Matt, who is portrayed as a sweet but not stupid kid who refuses to play her games. When he finally caught her in a massive lie that hurt him and his friends, he “accidentally” let hundreds of incriminating pictures blow across the neighborhood.
But, that’s the only karma she gets – which felt kinda lame.
Folded Notes from High School contains miles of teenage angst and hormones. As such, there are more than a few oblique references to intimate situations, but no depictions there of. Trigger warning: The point of the book is to show how one girl emotionally manipulates everyone in her path, so those who have experienced this type of manipulation might want to avoid reading. There is some course language, but no violence.
For readers 14 and up.
I rate this story 3/5 stars for failing to have a rewarding arc for any of the characters.
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