The Cute Girl Network by Greg Means and MK Read
The Cute Girl Network by Greg Means and MK Read is a text-book example of the old don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover warning. And in this case, I’d say it also serves as an additional warning not to judge a book by its title. I’m not sure how well this book sold in 2013, but however it did, I’m sure it missed its target audience because of the title and cover. I hope First Second, one of my favorite publishers, will re-release this book with a new title and new cover. It deserves republication and another chance as a newly marketed book.
I really like The Cute Girl Network, and I was surprised because I thought I was going to read mediocre YA fluff; however, as I should have expected based on my knowledge of the publisher’s track record, it’s another excellent graphic novel from First Second. Unfortunately, I think the title and cover make the graphic novel sound like a light, silly book for pre-teen and young teen girls. Instead, it’s not silly, though it is funny, and it’s not appropriate for young girls given that it’s about men and women in their twenties, living on their own and dating and having sex and talking about having sex. So, no, The Cute Girl Network is NOT for your pre-teen girl (or boy).
The plot is simple enough: A young woman meets a young man, they have problems, they resolve their problems, and the book ends happily. But the characters and the delivery of this plot are what make the book shine. After all, the above plot also describes Pride and Prejudice, my favorite novel of all time. In this graphic novel, our characters are worth following: Jane is simply an all-around cool person. She’s an independent, strong-willed woman who holds her own working in a skate shop with a bunch of typical skater dudes. And Jack is a sweet, but imperfect guy who means well but keeps making mistakes despite his good intentions. He runs a soup cart and first meets Jane when her skateboard hits a bottle cap on the road and she falls near Jack’s soup cart. They soon starting dating after Jack gets up the nerve to ask her name and ask her out when he sees her again the next day.
The complications come about because of their friends. Surprisingly, though Jack’s chauvinistic roommate gives Jack painfully awful advice about showing a woman who’s the man in a relationship, the well-intentioned women Jane lives with are the bigger source of problems. Jack’s roommate, and guys at the skate park and skate shop, are clearly critiqued in this comic, but Jane’s roommates are equally, if not more fully, judged in falling short in giving dating advice. First of all, Jack’s male roommate is balanced out by Jack’s female roommate, who is there to give much kinder, sensitive advice to Jack. Secondly, the book spends more time focusing on the women. These women, after all, are the reason the graphic novel is called The Cute Girl Network.
The Cute Girl Network is an affiliation of young women in the area who, with their self-declared cuteness, have decided to come together to provide the necessary information (or gossip, if we are being honest) that a young girl might need when first dating a new guy. In other words, all the ex-girlfriends have figured out a way to keep their ex-boyfriends — such as Jack’s roommate, for example — from ever getting a second date again. Of course, Jack, it turns out, had some disastrous relationships in the past. Jane, almost against her will, is forced to listen to women she doesn’t know trash her new boyfriend over and over again.
I’m sure you can see where this is going. And you’re right. Jack and Jane survive this well-intentioned intervention, but I think the way they survive it is refreshing. First, to the author’s credit, the gossip is not as simplistic as one might expect from thinking of Hollywood romantic-comedies with similar conflicts. Greg Means has Jane run into a variety of girls with different views of Jack, views that lead Jane to some important insights about the nature of love relationships, their likelihood of success, and the compatibility of men and women based on their different personalities, perspectives, and goals in life. Her realizations are intelligent and not simplistic. Jack has some realizations as well, even though he’s not the brightest guy in the world. And, as we are led to see by the author, not everybody needs to be a rocket scientist. Sometimes other qualities are more valuable than the level of intelligence.
The Cute Girl Network is a quality romance graphic novel enjoyable to this male reviewer who does not like romance novels as a genre, though I like well-written novels with romance in them, such as the novels by Jane Austen. Though The Cute Girl Network is certainly not in the same category as Pride and Prejudice one of the greatest novels of all time, it is a rare romance novel: It doesn’t insult the intelligence of the reader, the characters are complex, there’s a point to the romance, the romance is not sappy and silly, and the female is a strong character in a realistic way.
If you don’t mind your high school child reading a book that talks about sex and shows a sex scene (it’s not overly graphic), then I think The Cute Girl Network is exactly the right kind of book for him or her to read. It’s realistic and respectful, critiquing those guys who just want sex and those women who have equally unrealistic and potentially unhealthy views of what a relationship should be. At the very least, it’s appropriate for a college-age and older audience. I’ll probably read it again.
I can’t finish this review without mentioning one of the funniest parts of the book: There’s a parody of vampire romance novels in here that’s a riot. I read most of these parts aloud to my wife. Here’s one of my favorite sections: “Caleb [the vampire] looked as though he were experiencing some kind of emotion, deeply: ‘Chastity, I would totally die for you, if that were possible. I want you to know that.’ Chastity was deeply moved by Caleb’s outpouring of emotion, but due to the mores of the day, did not want to seem needy: ‘Cool, I guess,’ she responded in a chilly voice. Caleb sensed her inner feelings beneath her way unenthusiastic demeanor with his awesome vampire sensitivity: ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Totes.’”
In other words, the main plot of this romantic novel very intentionally copies the Hollywood’s realistic romantic comedy genre, but does so with greater intelligence than most of those movies, and then Greg Means imbeds within that larger narrative a smaller parody of an even trendier romance sub-genre: the Vampire Romance. The vampire romance is so successful, Greg Means expanded his parody into a short chapter that’s included as a bonus at the end of the graphic novel. To me, this nesting of romance narratives adds an extra level of sophistication, even though it’s a small part of the book, and moves this 4/5 graphic novel to a 4.5/5. Order your copy of The Cute Girl Network soon. And, with hope, we’ll see a new edition with a darker, edgier cover and better title in the near future.