Review

Smart Girls Like Me

by Diane Vadino

In
SMART GIRLS LIKE ME, her debut novel, writer and blogger Diane
Vadino turns the typical "chick lit" formula on its head. Just
about the only thing about the book that resembles the typical
chick lit formula is its pink cover, cluttered with clothes.

Sure, the heroine, Betsy Nilssen, works in the fashion industry,
but it’s writing vapid copy for a failing Internet company,
couture.com, one
of the most dysfunctional fictional workplaces ever described
(complete with bosses collectively known as "The Idiots"): "Filling
out the ranks, we are uninsured stylists and broke ex-freelancers,
MFAs paying off student loans, boys in bands, and vegetarian
fashion girls sketching PVC handbags during staff meetings."

Sure, 24-year-old Betsy lives in New York City, but it's in
Brooklyn, in a walk-in closet leased from a trust-fund baby and
professional partier, who keeps the apartment's thermostat
permanently set at 80 degrees so she can live life in a
bikini.

For the most part, Betsy lacks the obsessions --- fashion, men and
ambition --- common to most chick-lit protagonists. Despite working
at a fashion magazine, she usually wears vintage t-shirts (some
with stains), has never owned a bra, and, when the one and only
tube of lipstick she buys turns out to be the wrong color, she
chucks it out the window.

Instead, Betsy fixates on two pending disasters, both of which seem
likely to end her world as she knows it: the rapidly approaching
arrival of Y2K (for which she has prepared with 52 servings of
ready-to-eat disaster meals and her very own gas mask) and the
impending nuptials of Bridget, Betsy's lifelong best friend, who is
abandoning Betsy (as she sees it) to marry the man of her dreams in
a ridiculously over-the-top wedding on a South Pacific
island.

The two best friends had always imagined moving to New Zealand to
"kayak and meet surfers," but now that Bridget is marrying James,
Betsy is on her own as she tries to redefine the shape of the rest
of her life. "She is waiting for me to speak, which I do not want
to do, because I do not want to make this moment any more real than
it already is… My approval will just prod this moment along
to its conclusion, and Bridget's wedding will arrive even more
quickly than it already promises to, and then I do not know who I
will be anymore, except myself, without Bridget, which is to say,
myself, only less so."

Will Betsy find bliss (or at least a date for Bridget's wedding) in
the arms of Ryan, a co-worker who has recently returned from Japan
(and a long-term relationship)? Will she seek career fulfillment
away from the Idiots? Or will she forge her own path, embarking on
a journey that might take her farther away from her past but toward
herself?

Set in the waning months of 1999 and the first weeks of 2000, SMART
GIRLS LIKE ME is an achingly funny, truly bittersweet novel that
will speak particularly to women who live inside their heads,
mistaking a snarky inner voice for genuine action and purpose.
These days, Betsy's fixation on Y2K may make her seem beguilingly
naïve, but her chronic worrying over this worldwide calamity
(or something like that) is actually a metaphor for her pervasive
anxiety over every aspect of her life, a condition that will be
familiar to more than one reader.

In another departure from the usual chick-lit formula, SMART GIRLS
LIKE ME lacks a conventional happy ending. Sure, there's a wedding,
and a journey, and a new beginning, but they might be accompanied
by heartbreak, nagging doubts and whopping credit-card debt. Like
Betsy's authentic voice and true-to-life concerns, however, these
elements just make the book feel all the more smart --- and
true.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 23, 2011

Smart Girls Like Me
by Diane Vadino

  • Publication Date: November 11, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 0312385528
  • ISBN-13: 9780312385521