CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 34. . . . May 4, 2018
Jesobel Jones is sure about who she is and isn’t afraid to tell everyone. She says what she means and eats what she wants. She’s a gifted cook and baker and loves nothing more than sharing food with those she loves and has never minded being “curvy.”
Jes’s confidence takes a beating after a wardrobe malfunction is posted online, and suddenly her certainties begin to wobble. When the boy she’s crushing on invites her to a party, she starts to wonder if she needs to change to become what she has always laughed at – an unhappy skinny girl who won’t eat. Her loyal friends love her the way she is, but Jesobel dives recklessly into dieting and exercise, determined to win the heart of the gorgeous Matt. It isn’t long, fortunately, before Jes’s heart, as well as her head, believes that looks are not all that matter.
Anna Mainwaring has captured in hilarious detail some of the complex ironies and contradictions of being a teenaged girl. Rebel with a Cupcake challenges social stereotypes, not only for women and girls but also for those obsessed with projecting an ideal self-image. Though Jes has to deal with a crisis of self-confidence, she does so with dry, self-deprecating humour, and, ultimately, her underlying confidence and intelligence prevail.
Jes’s self-absorbed and dysfunctional family – an aging rock-star father, who still lives the self-indulgent band lifestyle, an ex-model mother, called “The Plastic One” by an irascible alcoholic grandmother, and a moody “it-girl” sister – don’t make Jes’s decisions easier. How Jesobel developed such personal resilience in this family context is a bit of a mystery. However, her family does add spice to her dilemma, and their quirky reactions add another layer of humour.
The novel is set in England, and many of the references (school uniforms, private school traditions, some English slang) may be lost on North American teen readers. However, the obsession with food, both its overindulgence and denial, is widespread among adolescent girls throughout the developed world, and Canadian girls will find it easy to relate.
Jesobel, despite the helpless crush that drives her to self-destructive dieting, is a positive, feisty role model who ultimately chooses the boy who loves her for who she is, not for the way she fits a stereotypical image. Jes’s delight in her confections and her love for food (“Food never lets me down. And there aren’t too many things you can say that about.”) are refreshingly honest. Her witty observations keep readers chuckling at the same time as it makes them think. The book skewers social obsession with food and diets, communicating a sweet but still valid message of the beauty of friendship and acceptance. That message is one that would benefit many adolescent – and adult – readers.
Wendy Phillips is a teacher-librarian in Richmond, B.C. and the author of the Governor General's Literary Award winning young adult novel, Fishtailing.