June 21, 2012


How to Fight, Lie and Cry Your Way to Popularity (and a Prom Date): Lousy Life Lessons from 50 Teen Movies. By Nikki Roddy. Zest Books. $12.99.

47 Things You Can Do for the Environment. By Lexi Petronis, with environmental consultant Jill Buck. Zest Books. $10.99.

      You do not want to base your life decisions on movies about teenagers or ones targeting them as an audience.  But what if you did?  Well, you’d make a complete mess of everything, probably.  But what if you didn’t?  This line of questioning gets really intriguing, in an exceptionally silly way, and Nikki Roddy pursues it with considerable enthusiasm in How to Fight, Lie and Cry Your Way to Popularity (and a Prom Date).  Take, for example, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), one of the quintessential teen horror movies.  Roddy neatly summarizes the film’s plot, includes a photo of heroine Nancy falling asleep in the bathtub as monster Freddy’s clawed hand reaches for her, and comes up with the lesson: “If you aren’t afraid of the psychotic killer, you might be able to conquer him. But maybe not. Good luck with that.”  Or take Never Been Kissed (1999), which teaches the lesson, “Inappropriate teacher-student relationships are totally acceptable as long as the student is a desperate, undercover reporter.”  Or Clueless (1995), from which readers can learn that “a smart, sensitive guy will eventually fall for a ditzy, self-serving girl as long as she promises to be a little nicer to people – and is ridiculously hot.”  The wonderful thing about How to Fight, Lie and Cry Your Way to Popularity (and a Prom Date) is that it is easy to envision the “life lessons” as part of the way in which these movies were green-lighted in the first place – they accurately sum up what happens in these wildly improbable movies, and at the same time pinpoint the films’ attractive elements.  The plot summaries are brief and accurate (plot not being the main point of any of these films); the stills from the films neatly encapsulate what happens in them; the “sound bite” chosen from each movie gives a nice sense of the dialogue; and there is even a multiple-choice question or set of guideposts offered for each of the movies to make the film’s flavor even clearer.  True, Roddy’s writing is often embarrassingly bad: for example, in the entry about I Know Want You Did Last Summer (1997), a character is described as “straight-laced” rather than “strait-laced” and the word “accidentally” is spelled properly one time but incorrectly as “accidently” another time.  In fact, the correctly spelled word appears in an unintelligible sentence: “They accidentally hit a stranger crossing the windy road with their car.”  How was the stranger bringing their car across the road?  And what’s that about the wind?  (Roddy means “winding” road.)  But good writing is scarcely the point here: the core of this book is the “life lessons,” some of which are utterly hilarious.  From Risky Business (1983), for example, moviegoers can learn that “if you lie to your parents, steal your dad’s car, and solicit a prostitute, you’ll get into an Ivy League school.”  Now, what better lesson could anyone want to get from a movie?

      The lessons in 47 Things You Can Do for the Environment are far more important and far more realistic, so it is a shame that the book isn’t nearly as interesting to read.  It gets a (+++) rating for its earnestness and the quality of its suggestions, but the problem is that Lexi Petronis and Jill Buck (the latter being founder of the “Go Green Initiative”) don’t have many things that are very unusual or creative to suggest.  Their ideas are perfectly fine, but many are simply not involving enough to capture the imagination of any reader not already committed to environmental attentiveness – and those who are committed will know a lot of this stuff already.  “Check out the Home Depot YouTube Channel or smartphone app for short, useful videos on reducing energy and water use around the house” – good idea, but scarcely revelatory.  “Your old cell phone may be a piece of junk to you, but there are many charities that think it is a little piece of solid gold – so donate it.”  Turn the car engine off “if you are going to be stopping somewhere for more than 30 seconds.”  When giving a party, “send e-invitations instead of paper ones.”  And so on.  There are some unusual ideas here: host a “green film festival” to help make people care about the planet (film suggestions included), or have your car cleaned at a car wash rather than washing it at home because, at home, “the icky water doused in toxic car muck trickles into the storm drains and then eventually into our waterways where it poisons aquatic life.”  There are occasional bits of interesting history in 47 Things You Can Do for the Environment (example: solar cells were developed as long ago as 1883), and certainly there are plenty of good ideas.  But too many of the thoughts will likely be ones that young readers have heard before: reuse paper and shampoo bottles, eat a more-vegetarian diet, shut down your computer when not using it for a long time, hand-wash small spots off clothes instead of immediately throwing clothing in the washer.  The parade of obviousness means readers may miss out on the more-creative ideas simply because they tend to be buried among the more-ordinary ones.

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