The Blonde of the Joke

The Blonde of the Joke

4.4 7
by Bennett Madison

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"There are three and only three rules for shoplifting," Francie instructed me.

From the very first day Val meets the outrageously blond Francie, she realizes that Francie has the gutsy courage and determination Val has always envied. But Francie sees something in Val too—something that Val's never noticed. "You've got that sneaky thing about you," she

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"There are three and only three rules for shoplifting," Francie instructed me.

From the very first day Val meets the outrageously blond Francie, she realizes that Francie has the gutsy courage and determination Val has always envied. But Francie sees something in Val too—something that Val's never noticed. "You've got that sneaky thing about you," she says. "I bet you have a dark past."

And just like that, the blonde and the brunette become partners in crime.

Thanks to Francie, Val is suddenly taking risks, taking charge, and taking what she deserves. But as the stakes get higher, Francie and Val find themselves more and more tangled in a thrilling web of love, lies, and shoplifting. Soon it becomes clear that the darkest secrets have yet to be discovered. . . .

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Madison's (the Lulu Dark series) surreal novel elevates suburbia—and the mall in particular—to an almost mythic status, at once mundane and rife with potential. Timid high school student Valentina's life changes dramatically when new girl Francie flounces into class wearing a lime green “whore's raincoat,” meant to cover up the aqua tube top and gold hot pants she's wearing underneath (“Francie was that kind of girl. Blonde. Big boobs. Total slut”). Francie, a force of nature, befriends Val, giving her an exuberant new look, teaching her to shoplift and awakening a whole other side of the girl. But exterior radiance doesn't mask the inner problems both girls wrestle with. Madison's dreamlike prose imbues the most ordinary of moments with cosmic significance (“At the mall, in the beginning of October, there was this whiff of something: like newness, or the future. Or maybe I was just mistaking the smell of Cinnabons and makeup”). It can occasionally feel like the story is about to sink under the portentousness of it all, but it's more likely that readers will soak up every bit of it. Ages 14–up. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Janis Flint-Ferguson
The joke is not funny, and the blonde is a shoplifter in this first novel by Madison. Francie Knight is the new, quirky, and, ultimately, lonely high school student who comes in breaking the one rule Ms. Tinker insists on: Do not be late for class. She seeks out quiet Valentina Martinez, a quiet, mousy girl who admires Francie's unusual style and behavior. Val's family is dealing with her brother's prognosis, which is that he is sick and is going to die. Val does not have many friends and Francie offers her a look at life from a different perspective. Francie's real claim to fame is that she is a shoplifter, not just a shoplifter but one who shoplifts because of philosophical principles: she believes it is owed to her. The two become quite the duo and when Val's brother comes home to die, they shoplift gifts for him, believing that a shoplifted gift is more valuable no matter what it is. Most of the storyline revolves around their shoplifting exploits—how good they are, how they get help, and how it makes them feel—right up until Val decides that she does not want to be part of it any longer. The language is rough and their behavior reprehensible, but, for mature readers who are compelled to explore the desperate side of humanity, this is a disturbing tale of amoral loners. Reviewer: Janis Flint-Ferguson
VOYA - Mary Ann Harlan
Val is disappearing. She lives in the suburb where "no one has any parents," and the only thing to do is go to the mall, which is a commentary on her existence not the actual truth. Her parents are disengaged, her friends have moved away, and she is filled with ennui to the point of disappearing. Francie is the opposite. She is the girl everyone looks at, usually with a snide comment, but she becomes a focal point in any room. When Francie picks Val as a friend, Val feels special, even when Francie introduces her to a whole new world of shoplifting. In Val and Francie's world everything is there for the taking, and they deserve it. Val is searching for the "Holy Grail" to save her dying brother, and Francie needs the fantasy to avoid her own reality. But it is nothing more than fantasy, and reality intrudes. Neither girl is particularly likeable, but they are both subtly drawn characters. Madison's novel is part cultural commentary, part novel. Nothing is particularly clear-what is wrong with Val's brother, Francie's past, or the relationship of Val and Francie toward the conclusion-but it is all in keeping with the overall tone and theme of the story. This novel is a 1980s John Hughes teen movie on downers, but it is also a well-written character and cultural study. Reviewer: Mary Ann Harlan
School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up

Val, friendless and adrift, finds Francie and adopts her religious devotion to slutty ensembles and shoplifting. Off-kilter humor, moody narration, and twisted psychology make this sardonic exploration of suburbia thrilling-like pocketing lip gloss and walking right out of the store. In Madison's hands, tacky becomes fabulous and wrong weirdly morphs into holy. The girls rock conservative Sandra Dee High with gold lamé hot pants, big boobs, bigger hair, and heavy eyeliner. They travel daily to the glimmering Montgomery Shoppingtowne Mall to perfect the black art of stealing. Val and Francie zealously try to strip the place to its cement foundation. Contempt for false edifice and for the superficial frameworks behind home, school, and the mall fuel their obsessive devotion to thievery. Analytical readers will recognize metaphorical expressions of teen malaise throughout. A circuitous creek strings together teens living inside cookie-cutter houses with unnaturally green yards. However, Madison's metaphors, while fascinating, often remain too murky, and character motivations remain unclear. When Val finally dumps Francie, readers aren't exactly sure why. Francie's unfunny blond jokes and even Val's mysteriously dying brother never feel fully worked out, perhaps even in the author's mind. But Madison's tinkering with unclear, unexplained happenings also provides this imaginative novel with its wild-haired beauty. Dreamy collisions of reality and fantasy, of the nonsensical and impossible, make for a magical, slippery read.-Shelley Huntington, New York Public Library

Kirkus Reviews
The reinvention of good-girl Valentina Martinez comes in the guise of a hootchie makeover and shoplifting, all thanks to her naughty new best friend Francie Knight, who walks into class the first day of school wearing nothing but an aqua tube top and gold hot pants. Francie takes Val under her wing: She cuts and bleaches her hair, bestows on her similarly skimpy clothes, and the two hit the mall. Readers may well be dumbfounded that Val so easily slides into the life of a criminal, but Madison builds Val's desperation for attention and friendship so convincingly that they have no choice but to go with it. The Gap, Spencer Gifts and other familiar suburban haunts all fall victim to their exploits; Madison's snarky, near-satirical tone, chock-a-block with dozens of hilarious "oh no she didn't!" moments, keeps the plot from getting too cautionary. What results is a ridiculous, riotous, tongue-in-cheek mad dash through the mall where everything is not as it seems and where the cheap jokes and the bounty grow like apples on trees. (Fiction. YA)
“Madison’s honest and darkly comic prose takes this mall-rat tale to mythical heights. The punchline is definitely bittersweet and will leave a good many readers anticipating Madison’s next book.”
Sarah Mlynowski
“This wickedly funny novel has it all—style, depth, bite, and a punch line you won’t be able to forget.”
Maureen Johnson
“The Blonde of the Joke turns a dull suburban landscape into a mythical place, full of treasure, inner demons, and transformations. Bennett Madison is one of the best YA writers around and this is his sharpest book to date.”
James St. James
“A delightfully wicked book—a supersexy celebration of good girls gone bad, and a haunting ode to teenage rebellion.”
Sara Shepard
“You will fall in love with The Blonde of the Joke the moment you enter its mall-wandering, skater-boy loving, dark secret-hiding world. Poetic and punchy, sarcastic and true, I gobbled this up and was left wanting so much more.”

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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File size:
346 KB
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

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