REVIEW: Rich and Mad by William Nicholson
Dear Mr. Nicholson,
According to the back of this book, it says that you are an award winning screenplay author of a movie called Gladiator, which I will admit to never seeing. This explained quite a lot of things that went on in the book, but it does not change the fact that the way you wrote it was just not appealing. There were some other issues I had with it as well and there were some glimmers of talent and insight in there, but I just had to muck through a lot of ick to get to them.
Rich and Mad is the tale of two teens discovering the joys and pains of love in all its forms.
This tale of unrequited love begins with Maddie, who is working in her parents’ store of odds and ends furniture when she meets The One. The guy that is her sun and moon. The peanut butter to her chocolate. The cheesy metaphor in her love story. He is Joe. Maddie cannot get enough of him. Even though he has no idea that she exists, and has a girlfriend of more than a year that he seems to have no intentions of leaving (even though, as rumor has it, he just uses her for sex.)
The other half of this story is the quiet and slightly philosophical Rich, who has a crush on Maddie’s friend Grace. She is beautiful and rocks his world, but she is also quite a bitch and stomps on him time after time. Rich doesn’t have much experience in the area of love or sex but with a guide on the philosophy of love and conviction, he will try to win her heart.
While Rich and Mad essentially follows these two characters separately, its more about their meeting, and the quiet effects of love versus the combination of lust and teenage hormones that make crushes so devastating to the teenage psyche. Maddie and Rich form a simple friendship that blossoms into something more as they realize that the people they like aren’t really the people they like after all.
Your characters were PAINFULLY obvious in this book. I really predicted their actions with ease, and it was not a book that made such predictions fun. Some books can pull off cliches like these characters as cute and quirky. Yours, however, just didn’t work for me. I found the instant ‘love’ Maddie and Rich had very, very out of character for this book. Sexually, you portray these two protagonists as sensible teenagers who know the basics of how to operate things, even if they haven’t actually done it yet. Then you have them going on a hundred plus pages of wild goose chases involving people they believe they are in love with, but really could care less about. It would have helped if Grace and Joe had some kind of attraction to them, but they never really did.
Of the two, I did enjoy Rich a little. He was a decently drawn male character, and his inexperience was adorable and attractive. I felt he had enough of a personality for me to enjoy reading about him, and his romantic fantasies made his instant attraction to Grace a little more tolerable because he at least knew she didn’t like him, although I questioned his reasons for settling on unrequited love.
Another issue I had was the various amount of subplots that just didn’t flesh out the characters so much as annoy the heck out of me. One involved a laughably obvious ‘cyber relationship’ between ‘Joe’ and Maddie. Any reader – experienced or not – will know this plot anywhere, and it was very, very obvious. The culprit was also rather obvious, but as to avoid spoilers, I will refrain from mentioning that. Grace and Maddie’s dubious friendship was another thing, as I had no inkling how those two managed to stay friends. Maddie is really rather dull, and Grace is so bitchy that it would take a saint to stay with her.
The thing that really bothered me was a subplot involving an eccentric male teacher that was rumored to be gay, causing students to say he was doing inappropriate things and have him quit his position to live in solitude. That really hit a nerve with me. Said teacher was a great character, and I really enjoyed him and his place in Rich’s story (and to a lesser extent, Maddie’s). Such accusations are so demeaning to gay people, and the minute support of the student body sickened me. I would have rather seen a book that explored it either more in depth, or done something a little less insulting (like – gasp – students actually enjoying the eccentric teacher who means well and likes his subject).
Your style of writing was accessible but bare. A lot of dialogue, not so many descriptions, and a lot of humor in the dialogue as opposed to internal speculation. It didn’t really appeal to me, but some readers will find this a much easier book to read than usual, especially reluctant ones. I could tell you were used to scripts.
However, there was one saving grace that kept me mildly interested in this book, and that was the realism of sexual situations. Subplots ranged from unfaithful parents to being in an abusive relationship. Neither are surprising, but they are done better than the rest of the plot and are handled with nice emotion and surprise. What I really loved about the sexual situations in general were that they were REAL. Early on, Maddie is smart and gets birth control, despite the fact that she isn’t sure she’ll have sex anytime soon. She could just ignore it, but she chooses to be responsible instead. Anymore would spoil the final scene, which is a little funny, yet very honest and a great example of how to write realistic teen sex. A little graphic for my tastes in a young adult novel, but nothing a teenager hasn’t heard before. I also enjoyed the inclusion of a character that is asexual. Something that is rarely touched upon, but does exist. Kudos for that.
This book is a hard rating for me. So many concepts just weren’t to my taste. I loved the premise and the way you were realistic about sex, but the characters mostly fell flat, the writing wasn’t to my personal taste, and some of the subplots frankly pissed me off on a personal level. Some readers may enjoy this, but it wasn’t for me. Better luck next time. D