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VOYAThis reviewer freely admits it: She watched part of the first season of Survivor and one episode of Real World. That is her history with reality TV. But students who gather regularly for Laguna Beach might find this behind-the-scenes volume to be an enticing light escape. Meet Ally, a freshman at Syracuse University, who is cast to spend her first semester "having personal problems . . . broadcast to millions of strangers" with cameras 24/7, "pimping [her] out to the world" on a show called In the House. With housemates, classmates, assignments, and her long-distance boyfriend in Miami, average Ally journeys through four crucial months of her life, deciding on a major, navigating relationships, and learning the importance of moving on in life. The narrative alternates between chapters titled "Then" and "Now," setting up expectations for reflection. Although glib and imaginative, self-centered and self-referential, Ally is not particularly insightful or mature-perhaps the ideal persona for a reality series. Other characters begin as stereotypes, and some evolve. Readers are treated to many pop culture references, breezy dialogue, fashion commentary, and Ally's conversational voice, replete with frequent use of the "F" word and rife with references to "hooking up." While not "hilarious" as the book cover claims, Ally's creativity takes several genuinely delightful turns with imagined encounters/consequences, inviting readers to play along. First-time novelist and active blogger, twenty-six-year-old Barnholdt capitalizes on current preoccupation with reality programming. Joining the A-List and Gossip Girl genre of titillating pleasure versus substantive prose, this novel slides easily intothe beach tote. VOYA CODES: 2Q 4P S (Better editing or work by the author might have warranted a 3Q; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2006, Simon Pulse/S & S, 288p., Trade pb. Ages 15 to 18.
—Patti Sylvester Spencer