Miss Understanding by Stephanie Lessing

Miss   Understanding by Stephanie Lessing

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Trade, 342 pages, 2006

Rating: 9/10

Reason for Reading: I loved She’s Got Issues, and after having the opportunity to interview Stephanie Lessing last year it was a sure thing that I’d be reading her next book as soon as it came out.

Synopsis: Renegade Zoe Rose is hardly the target audience for most women’s magazines – she’s clueless about fashion, not interested in marriage (despite her wonderful boyfriend), she’s anti-establishment, she simply doesn’t fit in – and that’s exactly how she likes it. Despite all of that, she’s just taken a position as deputy editor at Issues magazine, and she’s determined to shake things up and have women look at how they treat each other rather than at the latest styles from Paris. Her feminist ideals dictate that she change the world, but she’s facing an industry that won’t change its MO as easily as it changes its preference of shoes. Can Zoe infiltrate and change the world of fashion and women’s magazines, or will they ultimately break her, once again leaving her behind as the girl that doesn’t fit in?

Why you should read this book: I simply adore Lessing’s characters, and her writing has matured since her already-wonderful debut, allowing for an even deeper connection to the crew that works on the magazine. They’re all bursting with life and personality, contradictions and flaws that many of us can relate to. Zoe may be a hardcore feminist, but she’s also funny and written in a way that makes you feel for her ideals, even when they seem misguided. Readers will also delight that Chloe, the main character in She’s Got Issues (and Zoe’s sister) pops up again with her own brand of wacky, klutzy goodness. Miss Understanding hits on many of the issues women in their 20s and 30s deal with, especially reconciling the hardcore beliefs of youth into adulthood without feeling like you’re losing yourself. Transformations in chick lit books are usually of the ‘…and then I dieted and got the man, The End’ variety, but Lessing takes Zoe down a different (and far-more character appropriate) path that will ensure you keep reading as quickly as your brain will process the words, laughing and crying all the way.

Why you should avoid this book: Zoe harping on about her ideals and changes that need to be made in how women think is critical to the plot, but it can feel like a bit much when she gets a little long-winded. And while I hate to do it a second time in two-month span, I have to send out another plea to Harper Collins to stop sending books filled with type-setting errors out into the world. Your talented authors deserve better, as do the readers.

Opening paragraph:

I’m not sure if this qualifies as some sort of obsessive compulsion or just a simple fear of children, but I’ve just taken my third consecutive home pregnancy test and I’m about to reach for my fourth. One can never be too sure, that’s why I’ve taken to buying these little sticks in bulk.

Fabulous quotes:

Dan thumbs through the letter and begins rubbing his temples. ‘Zoe, “A Letter from an Editor” is supposed to be a paragraph or two. There are too many pages here.’
‘I realize it’s lengthy but I think it sets the tone for the whole magazine.’
‘Exactly what tone were you going for?’ Sloane asks with a look of horror on her face.
‘Young and fun,’ I say.
‘This is the most depressing thing I’ve ever read in my life,’ Rhonda says, flipping through the pages.
‘True, but it’s depressing in a young, fun way.’

‘No, of course not. I never even made it to the mountain. It’s freezing out.’
‘So then how did you break your legs?’
‘Buckling my boots. As soon as I had them buckled the guy told me to bend my knees and lean all the way forward. So I leaned forward, but I forgot to bend my knees, so I basically fell head first and then I remembered to bend my knees, so they hit the ground first and I literally heard them both crack.’
‘So what you’re saying is that you broke both your knees?’

Also recommended: Goodbye, Jimmy Choo by Annie Sanders; Cover the Butter by Carrie Kabak; Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak; Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson.

Also by this author: She’s Got Issues.

Author’s website: stephanielessing.com

Fun tidbit: Miss Understanding also includes a short non-fiction piece at the end, ‘Best Friends.’

Would I read more by this author? Of course! I look forward to it.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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