Books can be badly-written in any number of ways. The characters may be poorly defined, the plot predictable. The pace may stutter. The author may have O.D.-ed on simile, or rely too heavily on certain phrases ("His scar prickled like fire"). Or the author may assume that his or her readers are total idiots, and load the text with unnecessary clarification. ("'What are YOU doing here?!' she exclaimed, a look of surprise on her face.") A Tragic Overuse of Capitalized Nouns may strangle the reader in Unwarranted Portentousness.
Tyra Banks doesn't really do any of these things. FYI. I mention this in case you, like me, had some kind of suspicion that a person with no apparent experience writing fiction might be, I don't know... TERRIBLE at it. I'm terrible at it, and I write all the damn time.
But she's not good at it, either.
To say that Modelland is cracked-out would be like saying that sometimes Tyra Banks wears wigs. Of course those are wigs. Of course this book is nonsensical. Tyra has created a fashion- and beauty-obsessed planet, a world in which the only famous people are models and the only goal for young women is to get into the exclusive modeling school called Modelland.
Yes, but. Ok no wait, I'll keep going with the synopsis.
The main character is Tookie de la Crème, an ugly duckling teen with big feet, small hands, and a large forehead. Seriously? These defects make this character a freak? Also, I went to high school with a woman whose nickname is Tookie, and I would like Tyra Banks to personally issue an apology to her. My Tookie lives in Philly and works in pharmaceutical oncology. Tyra's Tookie lives in a country called Metopia and attends high school at the Bauble, Bangle and Bead Institute, where she is so socially nonexistant that she can lie full-length on the hallway floor between classes squirting whipped cream from a can into her mouth and nobody will notice her.
That is straight from the book.
Tookie's parents, Creamy de la Crème and retired acrobat The Incredible Chris-Crème-Crobat, treat Tookie like Cinderella and idolize her little sister, the conventionally beautiful but dimwitted Myrracle. Myrracle is being intensely groomed for Modelland, and so everybody (except the reader) is shocked when Tookie is chosen by a Modelland scout and whisked away inside a rather vaginal-sounding metal mesh cocoon along with three other girls: pale Piper, tiny Shiraz, and voluptuous Dylan.
So does that mean there's flying in this book? And is the book about the tyranny of accepted forms of beauty? Are we to expect a satirical expose of the modelling industry?
Still not sure.
The book, to put it simply, is a garbled mess. The characters are cartoons and the plot whips around doing wild little set pieces loosely basted together around a contorted dress form of a protagonist clearly meant to be a stand-in for Tyra herself. Hedges have faces, transportation is via zipper tunnel, and one character has a giant hand for a head. The word "morph" gets a lot of play. It's like those psychedelic animated shorts they used to show before the art films at the smelly old movie theater near my college campus.
Like Yo Gabba Gabba guest hosted by... well, it would be like Yo Gabba Gabba hosted by Tyra Banks, wouldn't it? She'd have ALT, Alexa Chung, and FЯED come in for the dance party. You couldn't watch, you just couldn't.
The most obvious X+Y here of course is that the book is like ANTM at Hogwarts. Tyra has lifted entire plot sequences, structures, and devices from the Harry Potter books, including some that are not so good. Modelland's mysteries - and they are mysterious, the lack of sense preventing the book from becoming predictable in any way - are resolved via a long hopping journey through flashback, recalling the end of Deathly Hallows.
There's other stuff to wail about - a Gossip Girl-style omniscient narrator who disappears by page 50 only to reappear at the end; character traits that exist only as plot devices; loose ends, one-dimensional characters, and the most excruciating flirting you've ever read. So much oral and food-related imagery. And if you eliminated most of the entirely pointless and often gratuitously coarse detail troweled into this thing, you could cut it down from 572 pages - 572 pages! - to a story that might fit in a spiral notebook.
Wow, hold on. That almost makes sense. If a bunch of tenth grade private school girls had passed an increasingly beat-up spiral notebook from hand to hand during winter term, trying to out-gross each other in an exquisite corpse about models in a magic world, they might have come up with this disjointed, meandering acid trip of a parable.
I read Modelland because I know it's going to be popular and I wanted to be knowledgeable about it when parents and kids asked me whether to read it.
And I was entertained for the first hundred pages or so - I was transfixed by the wack. But once it became obvious that the wack was just not going to let up, and not going to resolve itself into a story arc or a picaresque or... anything, I kept reading because I kept coming across what appeared to be statements about the modeling industry - but I couldn't actually decipher the meaning of those statements. The gurus that run the modeling school are autocratic, shallow, and arbitrary, yet they encourage healthy eating. Modeling is also referred to as some kind of feminist activity. Throughout, there is conflict about how beauty is defined, but no character ever entertains the notion that physical beauty is not an essential component of self-esteem.
Or just listen to Tyra:
Modelland is supposed to be the first book in a trilogy. I am fervently hoping that Miss Tyra gets distracted by some other pursuit - hey, maybe she can take up architecture! - and doesn't ever try this again.