Review: For Real by Allison Cherry

Saturday, December 27, 2014
Title: For Real
Author: Alison Cherry
Genre: realistic fiction
Series: none
Pages: 304
Published: December 9, 2014
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 4 out of 5

From Alison Cherry, author of Red, a novel PW declares “sparkles with wit,” comes a terrific new book about two sisters and one big question: how do you know who’s for real?

No parents. No limits. No clue what they’re in for.

Shy, cautious Claire has always been in her confident older sister’s shadow. While Miranda’s life is jam-packed with exciting people and whirlwind adventures, Claire gets her thrills vicariously by watching people live large on reality television.

When Miranda discovers her boyfriend, Samir, cheating on her just after her college graduation, it’s Claire who comes up with the perfect plan. They’ll outshine Miranda’s fame-obsessed ex while having an amazing summer by competing on Around the World, a race around the globe for a million bucks. Revenge + sisterly bonding = awesome.

But the show has a twist, and Claire is stunned to find herself in the middle of a reality-show romance that may be just for the cameras. This summer could end up being the highlight of her life . . . or an epic fail forever captured on film. In a world where drama is currency and manipulation is standard, how can you tell what’s for real?

Don’t make the mistake of confusing For Real with Something Real. Both are 2014 releases about reality tv, but while Something is a powerful drama about how “reality” tv can ruin the lives of the participants, For is a totally sweet coming of age comedy. They’re both fantastic, but very different stories.

Claire loves reality tv. Not in the way I loved Charm School but in a serious, sociological way. She wants to be a producer or story editor and watches all of the shows obsessively. So when her sister goes through a horrible breakup with a guy who’s been cast on The Amazing Race Around the World, Claire sees a can’t miss storyline sure to get Miranda cast. Except Mira needs a partner and Claire’s more of a behind-the-scenes kind of person. Still, she really loves her sister and hopes beating Samir to the million dollars will give Mira the closure she needs, so the girls head off to casting.

Right away, Miranda can’t seem to see that Claire isn’t thirteen any more. She talks over her, babies her, and tells the producers how fragile and pathetic Claire is. Yet, Claire’s not much better, placing Mira on a pedestal and feeling pretty envious of her “perfect” sister. So when the game throws them a huge twist, neither one supports the other like she should. As they’re split up, Claire becomes desperate to show Miranda how much she’s grown, leading to the real heart of the novel.

For a book titled For Real it really is anything but realistic. I don’t believe for a minute a girl who knows about story editors is also unaware of contestants playing characters. Yet she’s fooled at least twice. The same goes for producer manipulation. Claire comes off as incredibly naive about reality tv, for a supposed expert. Yet, she struggles along gamely, making strides with her social anxiety and trying really hard to show Miranda she’s an adult. The conflict was kind of silly, but the growth was real and the climax was really funny. The sheep scene had me in stitches.

The girls get their happy ending, the bad guys get comeuppance on national tv, (including the host breaking character to high five one of the girls for her amazing revenge,) and we close with the obvious message that your family is who’s for real. The book doesn’t plumb new depths, but it’s a short, insanely fun feel-good contemporary that I can absolutely recommend to people with sisters, reality show junkies, or anyone who needs a smile.

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