Olivia has just about had it with the popular kids at school. She and her friends have done nothing to deserve evil pranks and awful name-calling, but that doesn't stop queen bee Brynne from humiliating them on a daily basis. If only Olivia's classmates were more like the adorable dogs she helps her grandmother train--poorly behaved, but improvable. Wait...what if her tormentors' behavior actually could be modified using the same type of training that works on dogs? Olivia and her friends are desperate enough to give it a try. But is it really possible that the underdogs of Hubert C. Frost Middle School could make it to head of the pack?
Wait, there's no magic here??
I know I don't usually read contemporary books, but I have a not-so-secret weakness for funny contemporary books, especially when they deal with Lite Issues like zits and dating and stuff. As soon as I saw the blurb, I knew I had to read Fetching. Plus, there's behaviorism (!), and for those who don't know, I'm a big fan of behaviorism.
(In the case of Fetching, behaviorism is never mentioned by name but is used through the dog training methods Olivia employs on her peers.)
Middle school is a battlefield
Narrator Olivia is a pretty cool girl and definitely someone I'd sit with at lunch. She's very "generic teen" in that her personality isn't all that different from your average teen in a book like this, but that's ok. She freezes up when popular people talk to her, she tries to guess the color of the M&M in her mouth, and she wishes her hair was glossy and not frizzy. I get her. It's Olivia's "generic-ness" that made me like her so much because it was super easy to imagine myself in her shoes.
And, ugh, what horrible shoes she's filling. The book opens with Olivia suffering the embarrassment of wearing one-size-fits-all school pants. You know, the kind of pants no one in their right mind would ever wear but schools keep on hand as some sort of salt in the wound extra for kids whose pants are for whatever reason rendered unsuitable for wear.
(I had to wear a pair of school provided purple corduroy pants one time because Amy Grover spilled apple juice all over my own pants. Thankfully I was in pre-K and so most of my peers were more concerned with nap time and paint tasting, but I have still never forgiven Amy. The shame of wearing school provided pants is just not something you overlook).
And why is Olivia subjected to the torment of school provided pants? Because mean girl Brynne secretly put a ketchup stain on the seat of Olivia's pants and the whole school pointed and laughed at Olivia's "feminine accident." Ouch.
At that point I knew I had to read the rest of the book. I needed to see Olivia get revenge on Brynne. And thankfully, she does. Big time.
Ugh, did you say mean girls?
I know, I know, the mean girl story is totally played out. And even though I'm like that little kid with a blankie refusing to throw it out even though it's worn and old and totally disgusting and, really, at this point no longer looks even remotely blanket-shaped and is pretty much a tiny knotted ball of string (which is to say, I don't like letting things go), even *I'm* kind of tired of the mean girl plot.
But Fetching breathes new life into the story by arming Olivia and her friends with dog training techniques of revenge. Not only is it funny, but it was fascinating seeing how Olivia took the lessons she learned from her dog trainer grandmother and applied them to her peers. The best part is, those techniques totally work and Kiera Stewart described the results of Olivia's efforts exactly as they would happen if this were a real life experiment.
(And, yeah, there's a Don't Try This At Home, Kids! warning toward the end, but seriously, you should totally try this at home. Ok, I don't mean you should train your peers to shun someone, but if you're having trouble getting your kids to focus on their homework or you want your boyfriend to take out the trash, then you should definitely try applying some dog training techniques. It works.)
The rest of the pack
The side characters were a mixed bag for me. I had a hard time distinguishing Olivia's friends and they never really rose to Full Character Status for me. Every time one of them spoke I had to remind myself "Oh yeah, she's the one with the marker lips" or "She's the one with the acne" or "She's the other one." The most distinctive of Olivia's friends was her guy friend Johnny, but that's because he's incredibly annoying and I hated him (also, he's a guy, so that's a fairly notable trait).
There's a little romantic potential, but it never fully develops. Both potential guys are crush worthy (though one, I thought, MUCH more than the other), but neither play a big part. The shadow of Olivia's mother (currently residing in a mental institution) is cast over everything Olivia does, but even with my strong dislike of the Mentally Ill Mother ploy, I actually wasn't bothered at all. Olivia's handling of the situation was just one more thing that made me like her. Olivia's grandmother was sweet, but she's also pretty "generic grandma."
I'd give this book a cookie
The plot moves along pretty well as Olivia introduces new steps in her Behavior Modification Plan for Middle School Domination. Breaking up that narrative are little aside scenes here and there where Olivia trains actual dogs (cute and very funny!) and talks with her therapist Moncherie (yes, that's actually her name, and I love her).
About three quarters of the way through, Olivia has the inevitable falling out with her friends and emotional look at the softer side of the mean girl. It's all very been-there-done-that predictable, but my positive feelings toward Olivia kept my interest and I even grudgingly started to...well, "like" isn't exactly the right word, but I started to sympathize with Brynne.
Even with the dip in action, Fetching gets points from me because when I wasn't reading it I was thinking about it and trying to rationalize pushing off necessary things like chores and tv shows in favor of reading (though Fetching did not manage to distract me from eating).
I kind of wish a kid would come into my library complaining about bullies and mean girls because I really want to provide a "Life Changing Moment" by handing them this book. But Fetching has already been making its rounds among my library kids (I'm late to the party on this one), so it looks like my thunder has been stolen. But that's ok.
Other things to note: This is a MG book, but I think YA readers should enjoy it, too. It's written on the upper end of MG and while it takes place in middle school, it easily could take place in high school. Fetching is a standalone.
This is Kiera Stewart's debut, and I am definitely keeping my eye out for whatever she writes next. I'm also maybe secretly hoping the Disney decides to turn this into a Disney Channel Original Movie (or, um, based on a book movie).
Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key
Looking for another book like this?
You might like:
Click on the covers to go to my reviews.Tweet