Book review: Mates, Dates, and Inflatable Bras by Cathy Hopkins

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Sometimes a book ages well, and sometimes it doesn’t.  In the case of Mates, Dates, and Inflatable Bras, I am very disappointed to say that it was not nearly as good as I remembered.  I was obsessed with this series when I was a freshman in high school  I read all of the books.  I even had their Guide to Life, Love, and Looking Luscious.  Cathy Hopkins was my girl.  But rereading this book as a full-grown woman well into her twenties, I couldn’t help but look at it with a critical eye.

I can see what Hopkins was trying to do.  There was a whole wave of this kind of book – the lighthearted, funny, YA taking place in England.  Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging is probably the most famous of the set.  (I loved that series, but I’m terrified of what I’d think of it now.)  Katie Maxwell’s Emily series – the first book being The Year My Life Went Down the Loo – is another great example.  These books are hilarious, but they teach important life lessons.  Figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life.  Dealing with being separated from what you know and having to make new friends.  What to do when boys start spreading rumors about you.  These books were really special to me in my formative years, and I’m glad that I had them.

But, unfortunately, Mates, Dates, and Inflatable Bras just doesn’t hold up as well as I might have expected. In it, Lucy Loverling is a fourteen-year-old girl who looks like a twelve-year-old boy. She’s all of four-foot-eight with a flat chest and a baby face.  Her most treasured friendship is threatened by a new girl in town, and her crush on a mystery boy completely overtakes her thoughts.

Lucy is, for a fourteen-year-old, surprisingly in tune with her emotions. At fourteen (and still sometimes now), I would treat an incoming emotion as something to be battled away, not something to be analyzed and remedied.  Lucy sits down, thinks about it, discusses it with her friends or her psychotherapist mother, or grabs an “Angel Card” (like a box of fortune cookie fortunes) as she comes up with a plan for how to fix it.

But for all of her emotional depth, Lucy is kind of dumb.  Take the best friend theft as an example.  Lucy and Izzie have been best friends forever.  But when new girl Nesta starts hanging out with Izzie, Lucy wants nothing to do with her.  She thinks Nesta is out to ruin her life, maliciously stealing her BFF without a second thought to Lucy.  To the reader, it’s pretty clear that Nesta means no harm. In fact, she invites Lucy to her house, often hangs out with Izzie and Lucy together, and asks Lucy if she can come over.  But Lucy spins everything out of proportion until Nesta is the worst thing that could ever happen to her.

Actually, Lucy spins just about everything out of proportion.  A bad haircut, seeing her crush with another girl, her parents being embarrassing, an essay about what she wants to do with her life – it’s all equally upsetting to Lucy.  I know that this series was written by a grown woman, but it’s almost like what a child thinks it’s like to be a teenager rather than what it actually is.

Or maybe I’m just getting old.  I don’t know.

Another thing that kind of surprised me was Lucy’s quasi-relationship.  Of course, I like to keep my reviews as spoiler-free as possible, so I’m going to try to tread lightly here.  When I first read this book, I thought Lucy’s guy was the cat’s pajamas. The bee’s knees.  Really out of this world.  Oh, if only I could find myself a boy like that, I thought.  But here’s the thing – the whole relationship is a little creepy.  I mean, the guy is three years older than her. He’s considerably more mature.  And not only that, but he’s described as a player who always wants what he can’t have, and the two of them have about five pages of interaction throughout the entire book.  As a former teenage girl, I can understand Lucy’s attraction to him.  He’s cool and cute and mysterious and, hey, I developed crushes on less than that.  But I don’t see why Hopkins put them together.  I’m sorry, but as an adult, it’s weird.  Their relationship develops out of nothing.  When I was younger, I thought it was cool. Now I’m just confused.

This is a really quick read.  It took me a grand total of about two hours to read the entire book, so I can hardly call it a waste of my time.  But I have no desire to re-read the rest of the series, and I’m very sad to find that a book I have such fond memories of hasn’t held up over the years.

For my 2016 reading challenge, I crossed off #4: a book you haven’t read since high school.

(Question: What do people in high school do for this prompt?)

Anyway, final rating: ★★☆☆☆

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