High school senior Cameron Bright’s reputation can be summed up in one word: bitch. It’s no surprise she’s queen bee at her private L.A. high school—she’s beautiful, talented, and notorious for her cutting and brutal honesty. So when she puts her foot in her mouth in front of her crush, Andrew, she fears she may have lost him for good.
In an attempt to win him over, Cameron resolves to “tame” herself, much like Katherine in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. First, she’ll have to make amends with those she’s wronged, which leads her to Brendan, the guy she labelled with an unfortunate nickname back in the sixth grade. At first, Brendan isn’t all that receptive to Cameron’s ploy. But slowly, he warms up to her when they connect over the computer game he’s developing. Now if only Andrew would notice…
But the closer Cameron gets to Brendan, the more she sees he appreciates her personality—honesty and all—and wonders if she’s compromising who she is for the guy she doesn’t even want.
I remember seeing this book floating around Goodreads and the blogging sphere a while back, probably when it first came out this year, and being who I am as a person, I had to see what all the hype and talk was about. I feel like the synopsis both does the book the justice and doesn’t, because it really goes beyond the slight one-dimensional sounding plot vibe it gives off, but it also gives you a general idea of how the book’s going to play out. I think, as a YA contemporary, this is a pretty solid book. It doesn’t feel too young, which I’ve experienced with YA contemporaries before, and it’s not quite mature enough to feel out of place with the targeted audience. But it does have a lot of important themes and messages that I think are important for anyone who reads it, whether they’re a young adult or someone like me. Plus, when it’s like analyzing Shakespeare in high school English but incredibly more entertaining.
- The big conflict or issue in this book is the fact that Cameron Bright, the protagonist, is maybe a little too honest with people. She tends to be blunt and straight to the point because she believes it’s better to tell the truth than lie and tell people what they want to hear, evidently making her a bitch to everyone around her. The thing that kickstarts the story is when she’s attempting to hook up with her crush and is interrupted, which prompts her to more or less honestly tell this person her opinion and ends up being a bit insulting. Her crush, Andrew, then calls Cameron a bitch like everyone else does but this time, it hurts Cameron. When reading The Taming of the Shrew in class, Cameron sees the similarities between herself and the play and decides the only way to “win” Andrew back is to tame herself, thus leading her on a giant apology tour of those she’s wronged and keeping her honest opinions to herself. Clearly, this can go two ways: she either wins Andrew back because she changed or she realizes that she doesn’t need him and can be a better person but still herself. Interestingly, the book does both of those things, in a way. I think what’s interesting by doing both of these things is that it really helps explore the theme of changing yourself and the motivations behind it. I think anyone reading this knows that Cameron shouldn’t be changing who she is just for a boy because let’s face it, they’re not worth it. There’s not a single reason in the world for why you should change yourself just to get a boy to like or accept you because the real you is reason enough for that to happen; if he liked Cameron for who she was then that would be it. But there’s slight grey area here because you can change yourself for a person if you’re socially aware of negative or wrong behaviour and therefore decide to change yourself for you to be worthy of them, but that’s not the point here. Anyways, along the way, Cameron realizes that she’s doing all these new things, hanging with new people and trying things she’d never thought before, because she genuinely likes it and sees that she can still be herself, but a better version of herself. That moment when Andrew finally asks her out, after all the taming she did, and Cameron sees that he’s not what she wants anymore and doesn’t think she should’ve changed just so he would like her, is probably the most important moment of the book. The first half of the book, I kept wanting to just jump in and tell Cameron that she didn’t need to tame herself just for a boy, one who’s probably wrong for her, but I’m glad that it’s something she saw on her own and it was something that kept building up for her rather than being a one-off epiphany of sorts. I think the idea of changing yourself is a good theme to tackle and it’s important to see that you shouldn’t change for other people just because they want you to or you think they’d like you better. You should only change if you feel like there’s a problem with you and you want to be better.
- Even though Cameron’s kind of been branded as being a bitch due to her honesty, I liked that she was a brutally honest person. Not to rag on other YA contemporaries, but there’ve been a lot of times where the protagonist is like this cookie-cutter nice girl who does all the right things, who gets all the good grades, and all that jazz. I feel like giving Cameron this persona broke her from that mould and definitely gave her more personality. But also, I think in a setting such as the one of this book, there’s a lot of fake exteriors and a lot of placating to keep up appearances, and having someone like Cameron who’s honest and will tell you the truth regardless is a good thing to have. Do I think that Cameron being honest all the time was the best thing? No, but I also think it was important for her to understand how to be honest, how to stay true to who she is but without really hurting anyone in the process. There were times where Cameron would use her honestly as an attack and do so without thinking, and that’s when she’d end up hurting people and come off as being a bitch. But I feel like this process of taming herself just shows her how she can still be honest with people and not hurt them by thinking and processing her words before saying them or just being more aware of who she’s talking to. And I think it’s more than just being honest with other people, that Cameron learned, but also being honest with herself. There was a lot in her life that Cameron was just brushing under a rug, things she didn’t want to face, but this story had her seeing things she didn’t want to see but needed to, like how no matter what she did to impress her father he’d never see her, or how she feels about Brendan, things like that. I really liked how in the end Cameron really saw how to treat her honesty and how to use it, and while it’s not something she changed about herself by removing it from her personality, she just tweaked it to really be her best self.
- I really loved how this book was “inspired” by Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and, in my opinion, probably analyzed it much better than a high school class would have. I thought it was really clever to place that parallel between Cameron and Shakespeare’s protagonist, Katherine, and point out the flaws of Shakespeare’s own writing, particularly of women. I’d never actually read this play in high school (because Macbeth was more important, apparently) and my only familiarity with it is in the movie 10 Things I Hate About You, and I think this book was probably a good combination of both those works. I think the story itself had a lot of Shakespeare in it and like a dash of 10 Things, while the overall setting and school life, all that, was heavily influenced by 10 Things. I’m not sure if the authors even intended to do this, or if I’m making this up, but it’s impossible not to make that comparison. And speaking of the authors, I wasn’t sure what to expect from them since I’d never read a book from them before, but I did enjoy their writing. I mentioned how this contemporary managed to not be too young, yet not overly mature, and it fell into that sweet spot of YA contemporary for me. It felt in tune with the youth of today, but not immature, allowing me to feel like I actually am reading about actual teenagers on the cusp of adulthood. The pacing was great, the dialogue was appropriate without being cringey, and I really have little to complain about. I think they have the makings of a solid writing duo.
- I do have a minor complaint, and it’s funny because I’ve said how authentic I thought this book felt, but the school that Cameron and company attended just felt a bit over the top to me. I understand that this book is set near Hollywood, and it’s apparently an elite prep school, but it felt like the authors gained all their high school knowledge from what they’ve seen in teen dramas rather than setting foot in one themselves. I mean, is this really how high schools in LA are? Like, this felt even more extra than West Beverly High, which is actually rather modest given what goes on in the world of 90210, and I think if I’m saying that then you know this school is a bit much. This is the only thing I felt was incredibly unrealistic about the book.
- I kind of wish that, in the end, Cameron was able to find a balance between her old friends and her new friends but honestly, her old friends were pretty shitty people. Morgan was alright, albeit a bit unrealistic, but she didn’t really try with Cameron when the fallout happened with Elle. And where Elle is concerned, I thought she was really bad for Cameron and while I initially appreciated that she was just as honest as Cameron, I think Elle really did it out of spite and malice and didn’t care who she torn down in the process. Case in point, how she belittled Cameron for wanting to make amends or what her essay on The Taming of the Shrew would be about. She seemed like the kind of person who didn’t take other opinions into account and absolutely held herself above others, and it’s wrong. Cameron learned how to use her honestly, how to be a better person while still being herself, but Elle just remained, well, a shrew. I’m glad Cameron found new friends who treat her better than Elle and Morgan did.
THE BOTTOM LINE
- This book is definitely a pleasant surprise and a solid YA contemporary. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to, and found that there were a lot of great lessons and themes woven throughout, and it’s more than what it appears to be. I think if you love 10 Things I Hate About You, or have an affinity for Shakespeare, and love cute YA contemporaries, this book will not disappoint.
BONUS: how this book made me feel in a GIF
ABOUT THE BOOK
Title: If I’m Being Honest
Author: Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka
Release Date: April 23, 2019
Pages: 362 (Hardcover)
Until next time,
What did you think of the book? Leave a comment below!