The first time I read it I was under the influence of countless gratis caffienated-vodka-and-pomegranate juice cocktails, and it seemed somehow profound. The second time I flicked back for it and reading it over gave me the same unsettling feeling as looking up from my plate to lock eyes with an mirror-unready version of myself chewing over some meatballs. There are some things you'd rather not see reflected back. It also made me wonder if there was a secret army of militantly insecure teenage girls from which I had unknowingly made my way up through the ranks, convinced I was a hardy guerrilla force of one.
“Maybe he just thinks you’re pretty?”
I winced. This possibility was not flattering to me; it was terrifying. There were other things a guy could think I was and he wouldn’t be entirely wrong – nice, or loyal, or maybe interesting. Not that I was always any of these things, but in certain situations, it was conceivable. But to be seen as pretty was to be fundamentally misunderstood. First of all, I wasn’t pretty, and on top of that I didn’t take care of myself like a pretty girl did; I wasn’t even one of the unpretty girls who passes as pretty through effort and association. If a guy believed my value to lie in my looks, it meant either that he’d been somehow misled and would eventually become disappointed, or that he had very low standards.
The heroine, Lee, is battling her way through an elite boarding school and a hierarchy much more glossy and vicious than any known to exist outside of high school, the SAS and reality TV shows. What struck me so much about the passage was what an unflattering characterisation of teenage boys lies at the heart of it, one bitterly familiar to any reader of Just 17's he-snogged-my-best-friend, he-doesn't-talk-to-me-in-public, he-says-it's-over-if-I-won't problem pages. And what a mad contrast there was between that and the achingly sweet portrayal of Brooklyn boys in Don't Let Me Drown, the indie-flick that had just opened the BAM film festival.
Although the themes were weighty - racism within the Hispanic community, the literal and metaphorical fall-out of 9-11 - what really got me was the way that the teenage hero was so relentlessly besotted with his friend's cousin, that love letters from the high school hottie got crumpled up and ignored. As the credits rolled I turned to Chris and asked, for the sake of my fourteen-year-old self and problem page readers everywhere, "Are teenage boys really that sweet? Can they really be that sweet?"
Several hours and caffeinated cocktails later I watched the teenaged actor dancing dirty with his twentysomething admirers. Whatever the truth behind the celluloid romance, they seemed to approve.