Jan (pronounced “Yahn” as in Jan van Eyck) Miller’s life is anything but glamorous, especially compared to the life of Rebecca, her bonafide “It Girl” best friend. Confessions of a Not It Girl (2006), Melissa Kantor‘s debut novel, follows Jan as she tries to make her mark despite her very non-it-girl life.
That isn’t to say Jan’s life is rough. A senior at Lawrence Academy in Brooklyn, Jan lives with her parents in their private brownstone and spends weekends gallivanting about town with Rebecca. Jan and her friends have the privilege of the Gossip Girl characters without the catty, soap opera narratives (I imagine, I haven’t read any of the Gossip Girl series yet).
Privilege aside, Jan’s life is pretty normal for a teenage girl. She’s studiously avoiding French class, and college applications while trying to avoid looking like an idiot in front of her newest (possibly biggest) crush, a classmate/neighbor named Josh.
Kantor contrasts Jan’s romantic misadventures with Rebecca’s new relationship with an older man showing that, no matter what age, guys are confusing and relationships are hard. Rebecca’s life serves a similar purpose, counterpointing Jan’s to further emphasize that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
Written from Jan’s perspective, Kantor writes in a snappy, youthful voice creating a convincing and usually likable teen narrator. Sometimes, particularly in the latter half of the novel, Jan comes off as whiny and somewhat self-centered, but if readers are honest I suspect most people feel like that now and then. The important thing here is that, by the end of the novel, Jan redeems herself, finding the self-assurance and perspective that she lacked at the beginning of the novel.
The novel always seems authentic without going overboard in its efforts to portray “real” teens. Yes, there is underage drinking here and talk about sex, but Kantor never gives either a stamp of approval. Instead she often looks at them from a unique perspective as with when Jan compares the difference between a high school party and a grown up one (the climax of a high school party obviously comes right before the cops come to shut it down). Kantor’s writing about Rebecca’s relationship is similarly direct without being risque. Unlike other novels about teens (The New Rules of High School or Rx), Confessions of a Not It Girl is not concerned with being edgy or showing everyone how different things are for modern teenagers. Instead she focuses on the characters and their stories, not on placing them in dramatic or shocking situations.
Confessions of a Not It Girl falls into the conventional romantic comedy “Chick Lit” mold. There isn’t that much action beyond the scope of Jan’s interactions with Rebecca and Josh, but in this case that works. To be fair, the ending might be a bit rushed or cliched, but on some level that’s also par for the course with romantic comedies and that works for this novel too. The writing here might not be life-altering, but the novel is a character study of sorts giving what I consider a fairly accurate depiction of a teenage girl (except for the whole brownstone thing perhaps) while creating a fun, light read.
Possible Pairings: Nothing by Annie Barrows, Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, When It Happens by Susane Colasanti, King of the Screwups by K. L. Going, Gossip Girl by Cecily Von Ziegesar, Starry Nights by Daisy Whitney