Real Live Boyfriends
by E. Lockhart
Series: Ruby Oliver, #4
Released on: December 28th, 2010
Published by: Delacorte
Rating: 4 stars
Word rating: Ruby Ruby Ruby
Reviewed by: Ellis
Ruby Oliver, the neurotic, hyperverbal heroine of the The Boyfriend List,The Boy Book, and The Treasure Map of Boys, is back!
Ruby Oliver is in love. Or it would be love, if Noel, her real live boyfriend, would call her back. But Noel seems to have turned into a pod-robot lobotomy patient, and Ruby can’t figure out why.
Not only is her romantic life a shambles:
Her dad is eating nothing but Cheetos,
Her mother’s got a piglet head in the refrigerator,
Hutch has gone to Paris to play baguette air guitar,
Gideon shows up shirtless,
And the pygmy goat Robespierre is no help whatsoever.
Will Ruby ever control her panic attacks?
Will she ever understand boys?
Will she ever stop making lists?
(No to that last one.)
Roo has lost most of her friends. She’s lost her true love, more than once. She’s lost her grandmother, her job, her reputation, and possibly her mind. But she’s never lost her sense of humor. The Ruby Oliver books are the record of her survival.
While my experience with The Treasure Map of Boys was rather interesting, in that it managed to piss me the fuck off, it took all of three pages of this book to have me happy-sighing again. Ruby is back. Jackson is gone. Noby is a thing as in a thing thing as in a canon thing thing. LADIES REJOICE. And while the happy sigh quickly turned into an overall sense of everything is terrible why is everything terrible what did I ever do to you this is supposed to be A PAIN-FREE ZONE I WANTED THE OPPOSITE OF THIS, that ridiculous happy sigh and its even more ridiculous companion, the goofy grin, returned in full force by the time I turned the last page. Because, for serious, what am I supposed to do in a life without more Ruby? Denial is always an option.
First of all, I love that E. Lockhart decided to write this series from the perspective of the rumoured school slut, but never made that the sales pitch of this series. It's rather something you realise over time when you see everything Ruby has to deal with, but never ever is it used as some sensational hook to make the story more edgy. People do constantly try to define Ruby by shaming her for her sexual reputation, and there will be times when, in addition to all the slut- and whore-shaming she has to endure from her peers, she'll start calling herself a slut. The individual titles might make it seem that her entire life revolves around boys, but it's rather the fact that people assume this is the status quo that makes life so hard for her in the first place. While I'm convinced that Ruby has always been depicted as a full character in her own right, it's very clear by the end of the series that no one but herself and her experiences define who she is.
If anything, Ruby is characterised as a social outcast, and this is where it gets truly interesting. So often when a character is labelled a misfit or outcast, they'll be further characterised as shy, nerdy, socially awkward, and just plain invisible creatures full of resentment, while the school slut is the kind of outcast that's allowed to be hated on. I'm not saying that the shy, nerdy, practically invisible misfits are boring or overdone, since I think that's how many people felt in high school in the first place. There's absolutely nothing wrong with having any of these character traits and it's a legitimate experience. All I'm saying is that it's not the only legitimate experience. The spectrum of "misfit" is so much wider and more diverse than that. There are so many identities that are supposedly wrong, inappropriate, and/or unacceptable and Ruby's reputation as the school slut 100% falls in that category of misfittery.
Then, there's Megan, who is initially portrayed as the girl who doesn't exist without the boyfriend she's completely and utterly devoted to. It's accepted as a fact that girls tolerate her because of, surprise surprise, her boyfriend's popularity, but they don't actually like her. Real talk? Megan is the super best. Very similar to Ruby's situation, her peers also reduce her to her sexual reputation and let the boys she socialises with define her. She's the version of Ruby that very likely would have happened if Jackson had never broken up with her. At first, Ruby and Megan's friendship is sort of a forced loners hanging out for practicality's sake deal, but over time they genuinely start to care for each other. I love how Lockhart decided to bring together the two girls who are considered to be the school sluts, and made them into the most amazing of friends. Move over, Nora. This is what true friendship looks like.
As for the romance, everything is fine for a good 20 pages, until Noel decides to revert to the angsty, moody motherfucker from The Treasure Map of Boys. My favourite thing in the entire world. Not. However, the issue is explored more, and in a very thorough, thoughtful and realistic way. For the most part I was pissed off like whoa, because there was simply no way E. Lockhart would be able to come up with a decent explanation for this evasive, assholish behaviour that controlled Noel for large parts of the book. But then she did and I was like "Oh shit. I'm sorry I ever doubted you." I'm obviously not spoiling that one because everything needs to experience the frustrated rage and pain that is the Noby ship for themselves. The great thing about all of this is that you can see Ruby and Noel finding their way back to each other, as well as the fact that this solid stable love connection relationship thing is a thing that needs time and effort on both sides.
You can see Ruby and Noel go through the initial attraction and exciting, unnerving, awwww-inducing, but ultimately almost naive infatuation that comes with the early stages of falling in love. You can see them getting frustrated with each other and having to deal with internal as well as external struggles, all the while regularly evaluating whether it's worth the effort. It's what I've wanted from a YA relationship for a long time: a couple that doesn't split up when things get hard, that acknowledges that getting together isn't even the hardest part, that recognises that staying together requires even more effort on both parts and that love isn't always sunshine and rainbows, but that this is okay. They realise and simultaneously prove that romance doesn't stop after DTRing, that you can work on issues together, and that having issues doesn't mean your relationship is flawed or doomed, but quite the opposite, actually; that it is real. And I think we need more of that, especially in YA.
What I love most - besides everything - is that all this is packaged in a series that is equal parts hilarious, sad, and rage-by-proxy-inducing, and most of all, extremely relatable. Some of these characters annoy the shit out of me, and while I don't always end up loving them 100%, they are sort of endearing in their own way, I guess. My prime example in this case is Ruby's mother, who is annoying, offensive, childish and petty, but her propensity for the overdramatic is also hilaritude incarnate, and at the end of the day, she does seem to want the best for her daughter. She comes around and apologises for her at times terrible behaviour, so I can't really stay mad at her. Ruby remains my dearly beloved Flawless Teen Queen of the Perpetually Romantically Confused, though. And I love it.
But, for serious, what am I supposed to do with no more Ruby?