In Meg Haston’s How to Rock Braces and Glasses, Kacey Simon and her coterie of mean girls rule the halls of Marquette. However, it is Kacey who is the Alpha and she won’t let you forget it. She’s got the lead in Marquette’s production of “Guys and Dolls” where her co-star is the school hottie, Quinn. She’s a budding journalist and has her own show at her school’s television network news program. On her show Kacey doles out unforgiving advice to Marquette’s lowly peons not blessed to be as cool as her. In other words, Kacey Simon is a bitch on wheels.
However, Kacey’s life takes a tragic turn when an eye infection due to some messed-up contacts requires her to wear glasses and some wayward wisdom teeth call for braces.
Glasses and braces, you ask? What’s the big deal about glasses and braces? Lots of kids (and adults) wear glasses and braces. It’s hardly a big calamity to be overcome.
Yet, for our young protagonist, glasses and braces are a one-way street to loserdom, and soon Kacey’s friends Molly, Liv and Nessa reject her. Due to a braces-induced lisp, Kacey loses her coveted lead in “Guys and Dolls” and her news segment is put on hold. And it doesn’t help that a video of Kacey and all her lisping glory goes viral and Molly is now Marquette’s new “It Girl.” That skank even takes over the lead in “Guys and Dolls.” The nerve!
Well, Kacey refuses to be usurped and is hell-bent on retaining her Queen Bee status no matter the consequences. To do this, Kacey recruits her old friend Paige, who she threw under the bus back in fifth grade. For some odd reason, Paige doesn’t hold a grudge against Kacey and using political campaigning skills that would make Karl Rove blush, comes up with some schemes to make sure Kacey reaches the upper echelon of popularity.
At the same time, Kacey befriends a fellow student and musician named Zander. Even though Kacey had derisively coined Zander with the nickname “Skinny Jeans” due to his choice of trousers, he introduces her to cool local music venues and vintage vinyl record stores. Zander also invites Kacey to sing lead in his band. And even though Kacey’s former bestie Molly has a major crush on Zander, Kacey finds herself drawn to this rock and roll rebel.
Throughout this ordeal, Kacey wonders if she will be a loser forever or will she grasp the golden ring of popularity that is so rightly hers. Will she realize she’s a mean girl and needs to change or will she claim her snotty remarks are just her way of “keeping it real?” And will she ever get rid of those pesky glasses, braces and that horrific lisp?
To be honest I didn’t care if Kacey got her comeuppance, regained her Queen Girl status or learned a lesson worthy of one of those old “After School Specials” I watched when I was her age. I found Kacey a loathsome character—shallow, malicious, rude and spoiled. However, I did get an idea of how “Chicks on the Right” got their start.
I don’t expect characters to be perfect and to make the best decisions. In fact, I prefer that they don’t. It makes for more interesting reading. But I do expect a bit more nuance and dimension; Haston doesn’t seem capable of doing this. For a brief moment, I thought Haston was writing a parody of a middle school mean girl, but parody seems something beyond Haston’s skill set.
Furthermore, I found a lot of the plot points and other characters totally unrealistic. First off, braces are pretty much a rite of passage for most kids, especially those from upper middle class families like Kacey’s. Also, glasses are downright fashionable these days so I couldn’t imagine a kid being teased. Even I didn’t get teased when I started wearing glasses as a middle-schooler, and this was back in the stone age.
And though some teasing of Kacey seemed a bit realistic, I couldn’t imagine Molly, Nessa and Liv abandoning her completely even though she’s kind of snotty towards them at times. And I was also perplexed on how Paige was so willing to help Kacey regain her popularity after being rejected so cruelly. I think it would be more realistic if Paige held a grudge and refused to help her traitorous former friend.
I was also befuddled by the lack of adult guidance towards Kacey and her friends. I counted around only two adults in this book. One was Kacey’s mother who rarely called Kacey out on her odious behavior. Instead, Kacey’s mom kept coddling her special snowflake and convincing her that everyone else wants to emulate her. I guess Kacey’s mom wanted to be a “cool mom.” The other adult was a teacher called Sean who’s pretty much just a cardboard cutout. With bullying such a pressing topic today you would think someone would try to discipline Kacey about her foul behavior towards her peers. Perhaps Marquette Middle School is just another “Lord of the Flies” but one with smart phones, fruity lip gloss, and skinny jeans.
According to How to Rock Braces and Glasses’ book jacket a sequel was slated to come out in 2012 and the book was made into a short-lived TV show for Nickelodeon. Needless to say, I won’t be reading the sequel or I’m glad the TV show was cancelled. There are countless books (and TV programs) that show young people in an honest and compelling way. How to Rock Braces and Glasses did not do this. In fact, it sucked.
Or as a lisping Kacey Simon would say, “It thucked.”