Better Off Famous?: A Novel

Better Off Famous?: A Novel

by Jane Mendle

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466856363
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 11/05/2013
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
File size: 430 KB
Age Range: 13 - 18 Years

About the Author

Jane Mendle is the author of the critically acclaimed Kissing in Technicolor. She is also a PhD candidate in psychology at the University of Virginia. Better Off Famous? is her first YA novel.

Jane Mendle is the author of My Ultimate Sister Disaster and Better Off Famous?, which was an American Library Association pick for Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults.  She lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Read an Excerpt


The sweat began, as always, in my palms. It was 11:00 A.M. on Friday, June 13, and my drippy hands had now existed, ex utero, for precisely sixteen years and five hours. I wiped my palms on my tank top and smiled weakly at the driving evaluator.

Honestly? I wanted a driver's license about as much as I wanted to join an ashram in Tibet and be forced to greet the dawn every morning in a state of spiritual enlightenment. That is to say, not at all. It's not that I didn't understand the need to drive. I had waited for enough rides and walked home from enough bus stops to understand the allure of climate-controlled motion. And I certainly didn't mind being in a car with someone else driving. It's really what happened when I held the steering wheel that was a problem. At this exact moment, I could feel the points of my fingers burning against the wheel, an epicenter for all the queasiness and sweat flooding my body.

Deep breaths were proving radically unhelpful.

The examiner's squeaky voice interrupted my daymare.

"Reverse," she said. She had on a "Doris" name tag and the sort of tight gray curls that involve sleeping on a scalpful of foam curlers. She looked like the kind of person who would complain, after winning a day at a spa, about the quality of her seaweed wrap. With another nervous smile, I slipped the Honda from Park to R and lightly touched the gas pedal.

The car whirled out of the parking space. Reflexively, I smashed on the brakes, and the Honda bounced into position. Doris, who presumably had endured plenty of rough reversals in her career, bobbed her sausage curls and made a conspicuous mark on her pad.

"You're facing the wrong way," she said, oozing displeasure.

"Huh?" I responded articulately.

"This is a one-way aisle. You're going the wrong way."

My newly dry palms began to moisten themselves again. I reparked, carefully, and reversed again.

More teenagers die in car accidents than by anything else every year, including alcohol poisoning or general humiliation. I don't understand why we continue to insist that it is socially advantageous for people with undeveloped frontal lobes and overeager physical reflexes to be in control of what is basically a metallic, earthbound Death Star.

Doris continued to make small marks on her pad as she directed me down to the main road. I'd driven on Skyland Boulevard before and been just fine, but suddenly, at this precise moment, it looked like the Autobahn. Biting my lip, I turned into the appropriate, far-right lane. I wondered how Doris would react if I put on the radio to help me relax. Gas pedal. Rearview check. Breathe. Count pounding heartbeats. More gas. This was OK. Really. Like Gloria Gaynor, I would survive.

"You missed the turn," Doris said loudly.

I pushed down on the brake pedal. "What?" "Don't brake!" Doris ordered. The car behind us honked loudly and swerved.

My foot reached for the gas pedal again. I could feel a tremendous nauseous wave curdling over me.

To my knowledge, I was the only person at my high school who did not anticipate my sixteenth birthday with excessive glee. This single fact suggested that it was entirely possible that I had some kind of irrevocable birth defect. Probably, the adventure portion of my genetic code had mutated into dorkiness during the months my mother spent reading Jane Austen during her pregnancy.

"Didn't you hear me telling you to turn?" Doris's curls were wagging in indignation. I concentrated on not puking all over the windshield. Aside from being humiliating, that would dangerously impair visibility.

"No," I whispered.

"I said it four times."


My foot was still tapping the gas pedal in great, shivery jumps.

"Maybe I should pull over," I said, glancing at Doris.

Signaling like a far more in-control driver, I moved onto the shoulder of the road and sat there for a second, the sweat streaming down my neck, willing the nausea to subside. It didn't.

"Excuse me," I said to Doris, and opened the door. Leaning as far away from the Honda as possible, I started retching and heaving. The sickness seemed to last forever. When it was over, I leaned back against the car seat.

The word mortified comes from the Latin, mors, mortis — meaning "death." Never had I been more mortified, in the actual deadly sense of the word. It would have been marginally preferable had I truly croaked during my driving test, which would at least have spared me explaining the current catastrophe.

"Maybe I should forget about taking the test," I whispered.

"Honey," Doris said tartly, "you've already failed."




The only other person I know who failed the driving exam was Martin Horner. He failed it four times and his parents had already bought him a bright blue Volkswagen Beetle, which sat in the driveway for three months until he finally managed to get his license. The day he passed the test, he drove around the high school parking lot screaming, "Horny M rocks," at the top of his lungs.

Martin Horner is psycho. According to Tina Reban — whose mother works with Martin's mother, which therefore makes Tina a reputable source — he wasn't on an Outward Bound trip last summer, like he told everyone, but at some camp for disturbed teens.

I wasn't psycho (I didn't think), just star hexed. I take my horoscope pretty seriously, and Mercury was most assuredly in retrograde. Which meant, sweet sixteen or not, I ought to have delayed this whole driving test thing to a more astrologically advisable time.

Doris drove us back to the DMV while I flopped, eviscerated, in the passenger seat. When we got back, my mom was waiting on a bench outside, looking anxious. She jumped up as Doris parked the Honda perfectly straight and equidistant between the yellow lines.


Doris gazed at her with barely disguised contempt and paused, midwaddle.

"She might need a bit of a stomach stabilizer," she said.


I could feel tears hovering in my eyes.

"Like I'm the first person ever to throw up during a driving test," I mumbled.

Mom's eyebrows raised automatically. Then she rearranged her face into a completely nonreactive mask. "Maybe you're sick," she said blandly.

"I'm fine."

"I think we should get you home."

No argument there.

"I take it you don't need to do anything else here."

Like get my picture taken? "Uh, no," I mumbled. My lips, it seemed were incapable of fully opening. They were welded in permanent mutter-speak.

Mom patted my shoulder. I wished she wouldn't be so sympathetic. It was making me want to throw things. Or cry. Or throw up again.

Mom dropped me at home and went to work after I assured her — about five times — that I was fine and not about to hurl myself off the roof of the University Club. Both of my parents make worrying their primary hobby, which meant Mom obviously couldn't desert her phobic daughter during the process of semi-permanent emotional scarring. The first thing I did once I was finally alone was crawl into my pajamas, turn the AC down to arctic temperatures, and wallow in my own angst and misery. I'd been diligently wallowing for about twenty minutes when the door flew open.

"Annie!" squealed my little brother Nathan. He's eleven. And loud. I pulled the pillow over my head.

"What are you doing?"

"Wallowing," I mumbled into the pillow.

"It requires solitude."


"I'm wallowing," I repeated. Someday, science will discover a method for instantaneously dissolving small boys. At present, I had to rely on more primitive methodology.

"Go away."

"Can I see your license?"

"Get out!" I screamed, heaving my pillow at the door.

"Yo yo yo," he said, ducking and tossing a handful of envelopes at the bed. "I just brought you your mail."

I retrieved the envelopes from where they'd fallen. "Feel free to shut the door behind you."

Nathan closed the door and stood expectantly inside my room. I giggled, despite myself.

"I meant leave the room and then shut the door behind you," I specified. "Wallowing is a private endeavor."

Nathan shrugged but didn't move. I threw myself back down on the bed and began opening my mail.

The first envelope was from my friend Sarah. She sends me a birthday card every year, even though she lives ten minutes away and I see her pretty much every day. Sarah is so overwhelmingly, genuinely nice that it's unbelievable. Like I'd be shocked if the same disgruntled teenage thoughts that seem to be a permanent part of my gray matter repertory have ever entered her skull.

The second envelope turned out to be from this music camp I'm going to in July, with a list of all the stuff I should bring. They actually specified violin on the list.

The third envelope was the major one, the one that — though I didn't yet know it — was going to change my boring life irrevocably and miraculously. It was from my great-aunt Alexandra. In theory, a card from Aunt Alexandra should have been unusual but not particularly important. I've only met her twice, once when I was so small I couldn't remember it and once when I was eleven and we went to New York. She didn't even come to my Bat Mitzvah, but she did send a card with the second biggest check I got. (The biggest was from my mom's brother, who lives in California and invented some brilliant one-inch piece of metal that's good for computers. We haven't visited him in California even though I keep telling my parents that it would be a valuable cultural experience. Uncle Tim did come to the Bat Mitzvah, with this amazingly tall woman who wore leather pants and had never heard of the Torah, supposedly because she was raised a Mormon. She was a pretty valuable cultural eye-opener all by herself.)

At any rate, the card from Aunt Alexandra wasn't even a birthday card. It was really thick cream-colored paper with edges that were meant to look torn and said Mrs. Alexandra Hoffman Schlesinger in curly script on the front.

Inside it said:

Annie, dear —

I understand your sixteenth birthday is at hand. I thought perhaps a trip to New York would be a good way to celebrate.

With affection,

Your Aunt Alexandra

There was a folded piece of paper. I unfolded it. It was an itinerary from a travel agency on Madison Avenue, listing a round-trip ticket from Birmingham, Alabama, to LaGuardia in New York, in the name of Annie Hoffman.

I started screaming.


It was like I was that guy gymnast who fell off the vault and then managed to get the gold medal at the Olympics anyway. (Even though I'm not sure that was particularly fair, given the presumable standards of international competition and all that.)

Until I started screaming, I had forgotten that Nathan was still in my room, welded like a barnacle to my wicker rocker.

"Chill out, Sistah," Nathan drawled. (Why he attempts to sound like a 1980s Spike Lee extra is beyond me. I guess we don't fully understand all the possible genetic manifestations of dweebdom yet.)

"I'm going to New York," I explained. I handed him Aunt Alexandra's letter.


I rolled over and picked up the phone to call my dad.

"Failed?" Dad answered the phone.

"What?" I was confused for a minute, until I remembered the revolting motor vehicle humiliation I'd suffered at my own incompetent hands. "Never mind," I said, "I've been invited to New York." I could hear his mind whirling as I explained Aunt Alexandra's letter to him. "So can I go?" "But that's the first week of your music camp," he said immediately.

Sigh. I love playing the violin. It's just about the only thing that turns off my overactive brain. But this was New York. How could I turn down New York to spend a week in North Carolina with a bunch of social outcast musicians?

"Camp's an entire month," I whined. "So I'll take a week off."

"But you really wanted to go to music camp. You were begging us to let you go."

"Dad! Let me repeat myself: This is New York."

Perhaps the reason I'm a deformed freak with unfortunate reaction times is because my parents are clones of each other. So instead of getting some good, Darwinian, survival-of-the-fittest genetic adaptations, I inherited the exact same bizarre, clone DNA on both sides.

When I told Mom about the letter, she said, "But you really wanted to go to music camp."


But they agreed to call the camp and tell them I'd be there a week late.

"You're so lucky," said my friend Sarah later that night.

"I can't believe you failed," said my friend Meg.

We had gone to the Crimson Café to celebrate my birthday. This is because the guy behind the counter is indescribably divine and almost, almost recognizes me when I come in, which is often. Also, it is right by the university and Meg wants to be hit on by a college student, preferably an artsy, sophisticated one who wears a beret and talks about obscure German philosophers. Not that Meg has read any philosophy. Plus, the one time that a college student actually did hit on us, he was completely stumbling drunk and kept petting Meg's hair until she freaked and hid in the bathroom until the guy left and Sarah and I retrieved her.

"You cannot, I repeat, cannot tell anyone that I failed," I emphasized.

Sarah giggled. "You can retake the test in two weeks."

I shook my head. "I'm going to be in New York in two weeks. And then I go straight to camp. Like, literally. My parents are picking me up at the airport and driving me straight there."

"Well, good, then you'll still want this." Sarah reached down into her red bag and deposited a silver-wrapped package in front of me. "It's from both of us," she added.

"Ooh!" I began shredding the paper. "Hey!" I exclaimed, looking down at the cheerful sarong and beach towel.

"See, we figured you had to have some time to lounge around that fancy pool that's in the brochure."

"And we know how much you hate wearing a bikini," Meg added.

Well, yes. Personally, I believe the current bathing suit culture breeds insecurity and objectifies women and is a slap in the face to the suffragettes who went on hunger strikes for women's rights. But really? I just hate feeling that naked in public.

"This is awesome." I grinned. "I'll definitely use this."

"Good." Meg pulled out a pack of Camels and lit one.

I absolutely hate it when Meg smokes.

"What are you doing?" I hissed. "We're in public."

Meg waved the smoke away. Meg would not be particularly Goth if we lived someplace remotely cool like the East Village. Because we live in Alabama, she is about as Goth as it gets. Her black-tipped nails made the smoke waving pretty dramatic.

"It's just a cigarette," she said. "Jeez, Annie, you need to chill out." She inhaled and tried to blow a smoke ring, but it ended up being more of a smoke C.

"Meg," I hissed again. She stubbed out the cigarette and gave me an exasperated look. I didn't care.

"You're so lucky," Sarah said again, probably to change the subject. "What's your Aunt Alexandra like?"

I paused. "Actually," I realized, "I don't really know."


This may sound kind of dopey, but it wasn't until I got on the airplane that I realized I'd never flown by myself before. I mean, I knew the routine — seat belt, peanuts, trashy mystery — but there was this freaky moment when I felt like I might not be able to pull it off. I have a long history of botching truly wonderful opportunities. Like, if my life were Arabian Nights, I'd somehow manage to fall off the magic carpet.

Here's what I learned: Flying by yourself is just as boring as flying with your parents. No one notices or comments on you. The businessmen with their laptops stay absorbed in their work; the screaming babies scream; the "stay in your seat" sign is always lit whenever you have to go the bathroom. But the instant I got off the plane in New York, I felt suddenly a lot older and even possibly a bit cooler. Mom and Dad had made sure I had Aunt Alexandra's address and money for a taxi, so I ended up wheeling my suitcase in the direction of the "Baggage Claim, Street, Taxis" sign like I'd been jet-setting since birth.

Outside, cars were orbiting the airport at warp speed. I was walking toward a yellow cab when this woman shoved past me and knocked my suitcase over. The zipper, which was missing a couple of teeth, popped open and my clothes began leaking onto the pavement.

"Get in line, kid," the woman snarled.


Excerpted from "Better Off Famous?"
by .
Copyright © 2007 Jane Mendle.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Better off Famous? 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
pluckybamboo on LibraryThing 28 days ago
Better Off Famous is the story of a small-town Southern girl who, after being rejected by Julliard school of music, is offered a job on a private-prep-school TV teen soap filmed and set in New York City. At first Annie does not seem to understand why anyone would be bothered with where she buys her Bubble Tea or why she kissed her tutor; she doesn't see herself as famous, just ordinary, average. But soon, Annie's glamorous life catches up to her. Robin, the wild daughter of the TV station's CEO, is no stranger to four-hundred dollar shoes, drinking cocktails, or clubbing till the wee hours of the morning. Annie gets in over her head in her new life and faces pressure from her parents, friends, job, boyfriend, and media. I liked the novel overall. It was funny and really good teen book. I even met the author, Jane Mendle. The book came out in early 2007, before the hit show Gossip Girl premiered. The only problem I had with the story was that Annie's fix of her image was too short compared with her fall from grace. The build-up of bad things and disappointments was very steep, but the fix of her reputation at the end was too short and too fast for it to be believable. That was my only problem, though.
DanceBree17 More than 1 year ago
I happen to like Better off Famous? just because it is a different take on the story line of how Hollywood changes people. Annie Hoffman had ambitions, mainly to get accepted to Juilliard so she can perfect her violin playing. But when her plan to get into the prestigious music school fails, she is "found" by a television producer for a new reality show called "Country Day". Annie is at first skeptical, but she finally relents and is swept into the big life of a television star. I love how her reactions to so many things are naive and in some ways lovable. Her first reaction to getting a paparazzi shot is one of amazement that she would be worthy to be photographed. But she soon sees that the television public is loving her character. One nice thing is that besides the underage drinking, the worst thing that this teenage star does is go off and get her eyebrow pierced. Oh if it was only that bad with the real stars. It is refreshing to see that Jane Mendle takes her runaway heroine and makes her confront the bad things she did and really make things better. Her style of writing is one thats cute, but not overtly sappy, and not to smart that you want to slap Annie. The character is still true to her geek background, but I think the whining could have been kept to a minimum and made it a little more enjoyable. Overall I thought it was a great summer read and one that can be finished quickly. If you liked Secrets of My Hollywood Life, this is a great book to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
book-aholicTT More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was a lot of fun to read. I first heard about it in the Justine magazine and so I went to the library and checked it out. I just finished reading it. I enjoyed it so much! Then several of my friends wanted to borrow it. I recommend this book to anyone who loves an easy, fun read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Annie Hoffman can't seem to get anything right. She can't get her driver's license, making her the only almost sixteen-year-old without one, meaning it's back to the buses. She can't get into Juilliard, since apparently she doesn't have much talent playing the violin. She can't get the guy of her dreams to notice her. And she can't get out of her stupid school with its stupid lunches.

One thing Annie can do, though, is make a talent agent take interest in her, making him give her a card, which would then land her in the newest and hottest teen soap drama, Country Day. Its certainly pays to leave an audition nearly crying; you never know who might notice your acting skills.

Everything goes from okay to awesome for Annie. She becomes America's sweetheart and is on the cover of every celebrity publication there is.

But Annie soon finds out that the biggest and best shot the paparazzi can take is when a celebrity is at their worst. And once it is printed for everyone to see, those who once adored her turn on her easily, even when they don't know the entire story. It's up to Annie to find her true self and, hopefully, find her way out of the negative limelight.

Not like the other novels that take on the plot of the girl-next-door who instantly becomes a teen sensation, BETTER OFF FAMOUS? has a mind of its own. With its realistic story of a girl lost in the limelight, struggling her way to get back to normal, with cameras following her every move, Jane Mendle creates a story that mirrors the mistakes that those we have all taken notice of make every day.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It was a good book!!! I recomended it to all my friends.