Title: The Fine Art of Truth or Dare
Author: Melissa Jensen
Release Date: February 16, 2012
Publisher: Speak (Penguin imprint)
Ella Marino is nearly invisible at the Willing School, but she's okay with that.She's got her friends, Frankie and Sadie, she's got her art, and she's got her idol, the unappreciated 19th-century painter Edward Willing. Still, it's hard being a nobody and having a crush on the biggest somebody in the school: Alex Bainbridge. Especially when he's your French tutor, and lessons have become more interesting than French ever has been before. But can the invisible girl end up with the golden boy when no one even knows they're dating? And is Ella going to dare to be that girl?
This book both was and wasn't what I expected, in a good way. I did expect an amazing contemporary YA novel that was both romantic and thoughtful, but I didn't expect my heart to reach out towards Ella as much as it did.
At the heart, the novel is about truth and lies, about taking the dare versus never taking a risk, about letting family and friends, background and socio-economic status define who we are instead of ourselves. Instead of our own thoughts and feelings and abilities. For Ella, this book is about love and faith, loving yourself and having faith in yourself, loving your family and friends, having faith in them no matter the circumstance. It's about discovering the truth, both about yourself and in yourself.
Ella was a perfect narrator, a perfect character, but because of all her flaws. She has her picks and preferences, she goes about her life in the way she's accustomed to, even if it is hiding behind the fall of her hair. In hiding the scar from everyone else's eyes, she hides herself and becomes the invisible girl of the Willing School. But Ella has to learn to step out of the shadows, to let what she wants to define herself actually define herself as opposed to her family, her sweet meekness, or her scar. The scar does not define her, but being a caring friend, a great artist, and a wonderful sister and daughter does.
But like any teenage girl filled with self-doubt and shame, she uses her imperfection to define her, she highlights it by hiding it, she uses it to escape the world. It's no longer a thing to be experienced but one to be approached with great caution, as a thing filled with people ready to mock her because they themselves are coping with an imperfection of their own.
This is the kind of book I wish I'd read in high school. Like Ella, I had a few close friends. Like Ella, I was an artistic nerd (she draws, I wrote). Like Ella, I was terrible at French (well, I could write it, I just couldn't speak it). And like Ella, I was mocked by my peers. It hurts, but you can't let it colour your whole life because those people are just as outrageously insecure as you are. Plus, your friends will always be there after to take you out for Greek food to make you feel better.
After reading this book twice in the span of three weeks, I realized two things. One: always tell yourself the truth. Two: it's okay to take a dare because it'll make you stronger, and your friends will be there to catch you on the off chance it goes completely wrong.
The Fine Art of Truth or Dare is a must-read for lovers of contemporary YA, fans of misfits and artistic nerds, and those who never felt pretty enough or popular enough or smart enough in high school. You probably were, you just didn't know it. Trust me.
(I received an advance copy of this book from the author. Also, the above release date is the US release date. The Canadian release date is February 21, 2012.)