Anika Dragomir is growing up in 1980s Nebraska, and she feels like she’s living a double life. On the outside, she’s one of the popular girls (the third most popular in school, to be exact), but on the inside? She thinks she’s made of “spider soup.” Possibly part vampire (because her father’s Romanian), she works hard to keep her real self invisible. She toes the line to keep Becky Vilhauer (most popular girl at school) happy. When misfit Logan McDonough shows up at school hotter than the previous year, Anika realizes she’s interested. But then school hottie Jared Kline shows an interest, too. But if Anika chooses either boy, she’ll piss of Becky in a serious way. So who does she choose?
Andrea Portes’s novel about life in semi-rural Nebraska in the 1980s is full of dark humor and is at times deeply funny and deeply sad. The unconventional Anika has a unique voice that will take readers a little getting used to, but it’s thoroughly authentic and never falters in its consistency. Even when Anika makes some entirely immoral choices (drugging her boss at work), readers will root for her, because she’s not made of spider soup–she’s made of strong, good stuff.
While there is a bit of a love triangle in this story, it’s clear that Anika feels the most for loner Logan, who has a troubled family he’s constantly dealing with. The novel focuses largely on Anika’s navigation of her own family and her friend situations, but the novel is interspersed with short chapters that feature Anika pedaling fast to some sort of event. This helps ramp up the book’s tension, and it also clues readers into the fact that something pretty terrible is around the corner.
The foreshadowing helps readers to brace themselves for the book’s gut-punch of a climax, but it doesn’t come close to ruining it. The novel’s end is sad and shocking, and no amount of warning will fully prepare readers who make it to the finish. This is a strong novel, and worth it for readers who like their narrators off-kilter and their stories a bit grittier.
Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes. Harper Children’s: 2014. Electronic Galley accepted for review via Edelweiss.