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Review: Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes

Outside, Anika Dragomir is all lip gloss and blond hair—the third most popular girl in school.

Inside, she’s a freak. A mix of dark thoughts, diabolical plots, and, if local chatter is to be believed, vampire DNA. After all, her father is from Romania. Everyone else in Nebraska is about as American as an apple pie . . . wrapped in a flag . . . on the Fourth of July.  Spider stew. That’s what Anika is made of. But she keeps it under wraps to maintain her social position. One step out of line and Becky Vilhauser, first most popular girl in school, will make her life a living hell.

So when former loner Logan McDonough shows up one September hotter, smarter, and more mysterious than ever, Anika knows she can’t get involved. It would be insane to throw away her social safety for a nerd. So what if that nerd is now a black-leather-jacket-wearing dreamboat, and his loner status is clearly the result of his troubled home life?

Who cares if the right girl could help him with all that, maybe even save him from it . . . ?
Logan. Who needs him when Jared Kline, the bad boy every girl dreams of, is asking her on dates? Who?

There’s a scene in the classic movie Heathers where [SPOILER] Winona Ryder’s character, Veronica, is upset about the death of another character (killed, accidentally-on-purpose via herself and Christian Slater’s character, JD). She laments that she’s just killed her best friend, and JD points out that the victim was also her worst enemy. Veronica’s response? “Same difference.” It’s the perfect example of the relationship Anika has with many of the characters in Portes’ novel, including herself.

Anika Dragomir is a great character. She’s so authentic, with actions and inner thoughts that readers will recognize within themselves. Like Veronica, Anika both likes and hates her friends, knowing that she is part of a clique that doesn’t reflect who she really wants to be, but she’s too afraid to step outside of the boundaries … at least until Logan shows up for school, a newly turned nerd-into-hot guy. With Logan, Anika can start to express herself differently, and lets out some of the inner monologue, even though she’s fully aware that having Logan as a boyfriend isn’t acceptable in the high school food chain. Love isn’t easy for Anika; should she follow her heart and be with the formerly nerdy-turned-hot Logan, who hides some explosive secrets of his own, or the super-popular enigma that is Jared Kline. She is smart (although she thinks she’s not smart enough), sarcastic, vulnerable and unsure of where her true place in the world is supposed to be.

There’s a lot of conventional tropes here – teen love triangle, mean girls, divorced families with troubled relationships with parents, caring too much about the opinions of others – but they’re handled a little differently from the usual teen novel, with some positive results. Anika’s opinions may not be 100% politically correct at times, and she’s startlingly judgemental (to the point of discomfort) but her views are honestly presented and very real. Her desire to not be socially ostracized sometimes outweighs her better judgement, but that’s a pretty realistic response for most teens. Being a teen in high school is not a Hollywood story, and kids are cruel to one another. Fear is a pretty powerful motivator for most students, and it’s why bullying continues to be so prevalent.

I really liked that Anika’s issues with her parents evolved over the course of the book. Her mom, initially portrayed as marrying someone to ensure that her family’s security, but over the course of the novel Anika reveals that she’s more dependent upon her mother and her mother’s opinion than initially stated:

“She smiles. No one else in the family  jokes around with my mom like this. I don’t know why. She always gets the joke. I guess everybody’s just too wrapped up in their own drama to notice. But I know it means a lot to her. To know that I see her. To know I love her. I swear to God without her I’d be the first female serial killer in history.”

There’s a subplot at a fast food joint involving a young coworker named Tiffany that was interesting, if only because it gave us another perspective on Anika and her view of life. It’s not often that you seen protagonists in YA novels with the ‘joe jobs’ – flipping burgers, wearing the polyester uniforms – and Anika puts her own spin on things right from the beginning. I wish that the issues with Tiffany might have been explored a little more thoroughly, as she was a great mirror for Anika and presented her with some much-needed reality checks.

Ultimately, this isn’t a book that’s about happily ever after. It’s a book about coming to terms with who you are versus other people’s expectations. It’s a book about overcoming what society thinks in order to become who you need to be, and understanding that there will be loss and tragedy along the way. I loved the person Anika was on her way to becoming at the end of the novel, and how she was able to find comfort in the journey as much as in the destination. I’ll look forward to reading more from Andrea Portes – but this time I’ll know to stock up on tissues.

“And I know, right there in that moment, that it’s up to me now, that it was always up to me, and who knows maybe someday … And if I could, I would do every second of every moment over again if I knew the secret. You get one chance. “

Anatomy of a Misfit is published by HarperCollins and an e-ARC was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. It is available for purchase from your friendly independent bookseller, or other fine book retailers. ISBN: 9780062313645, 336 pages. 

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