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Book Review: The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding

I have spent weeks trying to figure out what I was going to post this Sunday, since it is Mother’s Day and all, but nothing was coming to me.  Then I stayed up all night Friday reading the book The Reece Malcolm List and I knew that this was what I needed to talk about.

The Reece Malcolm List is about a girl named Devan whose father has just died and she is sent to live with her biological mother whom she has never seen, the Pulitzer Prize winning author Reece Malcolm.  Reece got pregnant at 15, had the baby when she was 16, and for a long time, Devan didn’t even know who her mother was.  It is not until she picks up a book with the a dedication to Devan that she learns.

As an adult, I never really wanted to be a mother.  In fact, my exact words when I realized I was probably pregnant were, “Oh crap, I’m pregnant.”  Thankfully for me I was in my twenties and married as opposed to 15.  My journey to motherhood was further complicated by a horrific, traumatizing, life threatening pregnancy illness called Hyperemesis Gravidarum, which I talk a lot about here to raise awareness.  So I now have two children and am mostly a good mom.  Sometimes I get really obsessive about reading and am prone to making hot dogs or buying Taco Bell for dinner, but, you know, every mom has their quirks.  Part of what I liked about this book was Reece Malcolm, the character.  She was a mom with quirks – an obsessive love of coffee, often obsessively absorbed in writing. She also didn’t really know how to be a mom, but I liked that she kept trying, as we all must do.  For me, the mom was a real stand out, compelling character. And she wasn’t the stereotypical YA novel mom; yes, she had been absent up until this point, but she is not absent now and there is a lot of good mother/daughter relationship stuff here.  It’s also possible that I am a version of Reece Malcolm, which means I thought she was totally and completely awesome in every way!

In RML, Devan spends time investigating and making a list of this mother that she doesn’t know to try and understand her, and to try and understand why she left her.  It is the list of things she is learning about Reece Malcolm.  In this spirit of list making, I present you with the following list of things I liked about The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding.

1) It is a sort of love letter not only to writers, but to choir and theater geeks.  Glee fans will love it.

2) There is no sweeping drama, fight to the death, or overbearing darkness.  It is a quiet, moving story about a girl and her journey to self acceptance that has a lightness about it, not in subject matter but in tone.  When you have read your umpteenth dark novel and are asking, “Isn’t there anything a little more lighter – happy – for teens?”  The answer is yes, yes there is and this book fills the bill quite nicely.

3) It is nice to meet Devan as a character, be drawn into her struggle, and see her really come into her own.  This is a girl who grew up in a home with a dad who seemed to often ignore her, a stepmother who resented her, and a mom that had given her up.  But slowly, she comes to a place of self acceptance and even happiness, in part through her love of theater and just really finding herself.  And it is nice to see people with passion and the way it gives them center.

4)  If Devan has any flaws, and don’t we all, it is that she is in fact too nice.  She always is trying to make everything emotionally easier for everyone around her by being easy, not complaining, always apologizing, etc.  But you know that at some point, things must break and her true feelings will come spewing out of her mouth.  The resolution of all this is handled really well.  The conversations are satisfying.

5) There are a couple of GLTBQ supporting characters and their sexuality is really not an issue at all.  Even when one character finally reveals it, it is basically a non issue.  This is a positive portrayal of GLBTQ teens.

6) There is a nice, well developed cast of supporting characters that authentically depict high school life, but also remind us that HS doesn’t have to be nasty and hateful.  I liked the friendships and romances, and how they ebbed and flowed in very realistic ways. They came apart, they came back together, people and their very peopleness got in the way and then they just kind of worked it out.  People eventually said they were sorry.  People chose to forgive.

7) At the end of the day, this was a very heartwarming and enjoyable book about relationships of all kinds.  There was some swoon, but it wasn’t about swoony romance.  Nobody was perfect, everyone was very human. But they cared about each other and, in the immortal words of Tim Gunn taken out of context, made it work.  Even when it was hard.

8) It showed how multifaceted people can be.  Devan likes shoes and shopping and musicals; she is often referred to as a “fashionista” by her friends but is also so much more than that. She’s no mean girl, on kind of the outskirts, but not bullied or tormented or languishing in self pity.  There is an awareness and brief mentions of social stratification, but it is not an overriding theme.  In fact, this is a book about the tons of teens that rest somewhere right in the middle doing their own thing.  And in the same vein, another main character, Sai, is considered kind of popular and swoony but he also wrestles with some emotional demons and loves to read.  He is geek but a hot geek.  See, multifaceted non-pigeonholed characters.

9) There is no sex and minimal cussing.  It’s pretty appropriate for teens of all ages.  I would say it is a much lighter version of Sara Zarr and Sarah Dessen.  Again, lighter in tone, not lacking in emotional content.  Don’t write this off as fluff, but you will not put this book down feeling depressed or like you need to prepare for the end of the world or that you must give up any hope for humanity.  See number 2.

10) There is a reversal of gender norms in this book that I think is really effective and I appreciated.  Reece’s boyfriend, Brad, is the more nurturing, domestic diva.  He cooks. He tries to institute traditions and family times. He reaches out to Devan in gentle ways.  While Reece struggles with being nurturing, believes that food is acquired by picking something up (a girl after my own heart), and she struggles with being emotionally open.  I appreciated the way RML effectively reminds us that all people are different, gives teens examples of these flipped gender roles, and in the end it is really a non issue.  This is just how the world works.

I really recommend this book.  There just isn’t a lot of negative things to say about it.  It’s a simple story, but an authentic one that you can connect to emotionally and I think reaches out to the normalcy of life.  Well, the normalcy of life when you find yourself living with the mom you never knew at 16.  4 out of 5 stars.

The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding.  Published by Entangled Teen, 2013. ISBN: 9781620612408