Review: Modelland by Tyra Banks

Thursday, August 16, 2012
First: Blog news! 

I have a new co-blogger, and I could not be more excited. Her name is Danielle, she is made of awesome and win, wrapped in delightful, and covered in intelligence. I've known Danielle since 2004ish when we met on a supernerd website devoted to Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time fantasy series. While wotmania is now defunct (RIP), Danielle and I have stayed in touch thanks to IM, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads. She is one of my favorite people ever, and her reviews are snarky, hilarious, well-thought-out, and detailed. She'll be contributing whenever she can find the time, balancing a heavy workload, a mischevious cat, and her mansome husband. So look out for her reviews, which will always be tagged as "reviewed by Danielle". 

With all that, please enjoy her amazing review for an awful book:

Title: Modelland
Author: Tyra Banks
Genre: young-adult, fantady
Series: Modelland #1
Pages: 576 (hardcover edition)
Published: September 2011
Source: bought
Ratting: 1/5

No one gets in without being asked. And with her untamable hair, large forehead, and gawky body, Tookie De La Crème isn’t expecting an invitation. Modelland—the exclusive, mysterious place on top of the mountain—never dares to make an appearance in her dreams.

But someone has plans for Tookie. Before she can blink her mismatched eyes, Tookie finds herself in the very place every girl in the world obsesses about. And three unlikely girls have joined her.

Only seven extraordinary young women become Intoxibellas each year. Famous. Worshipped. Magical. What happens to those who don’t make it? Well, no one really speaks of that. Some things are better left unsaid.

Thrown into a world where she doesn’t seem to belong, Tookie glimpses a future that could be hers—if she survives the beastly Catwalk Corridor and terrifying Thigh-High Boot Camp. Or could it? Dark rumors like silken threads swirl around the question of why Tookie and her new friends were selected . . . and the shadows around Modelland hide sinister secrets.

Are you ready? Modelland is waiting for you. . . 

The biggest surprise of Modelland is that it deserves any stars. It may only deserve one, but that’s more than I expected after reading the sample chapter.

In the interest of full disclosure, I read this book because I knew it would be terribly, hilariously bad. Just life-alteringly awful. I will never again criticize Scott Westerfeld for a lack of subtlety in his moral, nor Jackson Pearce for her stilted writing. Modelland’s flaws are many and varied, and I’ll get to them, but first its single greatest strength:

I’ll read the second one.

For all of my ripping on it, for all of its flaws, for its terrible world building, nonsensical set pieces, plot holes, after-school special morals, and ridiculous language, I found myself liking Tookie and wanting her to succeed.

Maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome from being trapped with the character for 574 pages, but after arriving at Modelland, Tookie becomes a pretty realistic portrayal of a teenage girl and I found her quite relatable and did enjoy watching her progress.

Now for the bad. Detailed spoilers below.

First, the narrator. I love Lemony Snicket as much as the next Lemony Snicket fan, but he really did ruin a lot of books by giving authors the go-ahead to use weird, obnoxious narrators. Look, I made it through the Catwalk Corridor chapter, where models are turned into people-cats as punishment for being too catty, and I almost didn’t make it off the first page with the second-person narrator calling me “dahling” [sic] and spewing purple prose all over. If you can overcome that, however, then we’re confronted with the worst introduction to a protagonist that I’ve ever read.

It’s best to acknowledge and accept that this book is a 600 page after-school special. It shallowly deals with cutting, anorexia, bulimia, poor self image, suicidal ideation, more self-injury, bullying, and, most of all, feeling like you don’t fit in. Therefore, it makes sense to introduce Tookie by showing her not fitting in. It doesn’t make sense to introduce her gorging on whipped cream while laying in the middle of a hallway, hoping someone steps on her, while writing in a diary she inexplicably calls T-Mail Jail because it’s abbreviated to TMJ which is like lockjaw and that’s the opposite of what she wants since she wants everyone to read her diary and notice her. Every single thing Tookie does for a solid half of the novel is so infuriatingly “quirky” and “weird”, that I was actively hoping she would fall into the Divide and we’d get a new protagonist.

Speaking of Tookie, let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes, she’s Tyra Banks. She’s the most blatant self insert since Twilight. In fact, Tyra, in true egomaniacal fashion, has THREE self inserts in the novel. She’s the narrator, she’s Tookie, and she’s Ci~L, the world’s greatest supermodel. That means the book ends with Tyra flying Tyra through the world Tyra created while Tyra narrates the life lessons. It’s actually stunning.

The writing is generally atrocious. This is the first celebrity book that I honestly believe didn’t employ a ghost writer at any point. Here are some tweets I sent while reading:
"...apparently, a famous, wealthy baroness had run a Yonzi scheme of sorts" Really? This is some first class writing. Why not just use Ponzi?

This book features SMIZEs, the golden tickets in Willy Wonka except you get to go to a magic model school instead of a chocolate factory.

"A single spotlight shone down on Tookie’s ripple-bodied father" Ripple-bodied. RIPPLE-BODIED. Maybe I do need that intervention now.

“Feast your eyes upon ... Evanjalinda!” Come now, that's not even a clever play on Linda Evangelista.

It's all the worst part, but I think the world building is the worst worst part. "...on the sexy beaches of Terra BossaNova, on the strip of Striptown, round the Taj Gardens in Chakra.." I want to pull a Miz and just yell, "Really? REALLY?" at every new line.

‘She had an accent from Didgeridoo, a hot land full of beaches and unusual animals with strange names. “And this is where Mastication happens!”’

'“Watch out, De La Creme. This kitty-cat got a taste of your sweetness and wants more of your cream!”

Every paragraph brings a new line I could have quoted. There are puns and play on words everywhere, characters who sing all of their lines, a group of quadruplets who each speak one line in a sentence, but it’s not just the actual language that’s problematic. Plots are dropped and picked up at random, (see Lizzie’s whole storyline or Tookie’s crush on Theophilus.) Many scenes seem like an excuse to use this awesome idea Tyra had, (the previously mentioned Catwalk Corridor, the pilgrimage, the ManAttack sport.) Tookie deus ex machinas her way around the school, “sleepwalking” into restricted areas including the headmaster’s office in the middle of the day. If a rotating hallway of death or an inconvenient nap don’t advance the plot, that’s okay! The girls can go to class, or have Ci~L do something crazy, or have their big buddy pop up to “accidentally” reveal something she wasn’t supposed to. Nothing happens organically.

If I can go back to the “awesome” ideas, I have no idea what to say or think about the residents of Modelland who didn’t win a worldwide walk-off. The Gurus, we learn, are all supposed to have some sort of flaw. This manifests in a giant hand with a face in his palm and two more hands under that. I don’t know if he’s floating or if he has a body. Frankly, I stopped reading at GIANT HAND. I forget everyone else’s flaw because we only met them once, except for the runway teacher, who, I believe, has the flaw of being dangerously insane. The rest of the staff is also unusual. All of the doctors have roller skates for feet, to better serve you quickly. One of the purses, (that’s nurses for the fashion set,) has scissors growing out of her head that instead of cutting, make bracelets. No, I don’t know how it works. These are the kind of silly, not fleshed out ideas that a child might suggest for a story. How they made it into a published novel is beyond me.

Interestingly, one thing not problematic about the book is gendered language. They seem to go out of their way to not use the phrase “attention whore”, and while some bad characters are referred to as bitches, it’s usually followed up with a reminder not to stoop to the bully’s level. I only wish the narrator hadn’t used it, which seemed condoning. However, while they may not call people sluts, the book punishes sexual women. Desperada is aged 50 years because she won’t abandon her boyfriend, Zarpessa and Chaste are the bullies, and *MAJOR SPOILERS* Ladonna getting pregnant sets up Persimmon’s ruination and Creamy’s betrayal by trying to seduce Ladonna’s boyfriend ends with her banishment.

This indictment of love and sex leads to one of the weirdest plotlines of the book, Tookie’s first kiss. Way overwrought, spawning such terms as “I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I can’t wait to lose my … lip virginity to you,” and “Oh, Tookie, I never wagered your lip nookie,” it’s more cringe-inducing than romantic. I get that for a 15 year old girl, the first kiss is a huge deal, but what 15-17 year old boys do you know who suggest running away to the most beautiful fountain in (the equivalent of) Manhattan to kiss as the sun sets? The same one who actually lectures on the perils of being seen as just a pretty face? Oh, carry on, then.

Overall, it was a bad book with a glimmer of promise in Tookie’s realness. Most of the plot was lifted from Uglies and Harry Potter. It’s manic, poorly written, and predictable. An editor should have taken a weed whacker to large portions of it. There are massive plot holes. But I didn’t set it aside and I will read the second. Whether that says more about me or the book, remains to be seen. 

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