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Miss Understanding

Miss Understanding

2.5 2
by Stephanie Lessing

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Zoe Rose never quite fit in.

As the only kid in kindergarten with an enormous red afro, Zoe was taunted by the other little girls for refusing to share her "Annie" wig, even when she swore it was her own hair (it was).

In second grade, after seeing her best friend ridiculed for wearing a dirty, pink, polka-dot party dress to school every day, she


Zoe Rose never quite fit in.

As the only kid in kindergarten with an enormous red afro, Zoe was taunted by the other little girls for refusing to share her "Annie" wig, even when she swore it was her own hair (it was).

In second grade, after seeing her best friend ridiculed for wearing a dirty, pink, polka-dot party dress to school every day, she became obsessed with understanding what makes normal girls tick and why they're so cruel to the girls who never seem to "get it."

And so Zoe begins a lifelong study of girl behavior, and by thirty, finds herself editor of Issues magazine. Determined to raid the locker room of the female psyche and rip open the frilly façade of femininity once and for all, she sets out to reform an entire nation of women, beginning with the readers of the most notorious magazine on Madison Avenue.

It's the feminist vs. the fashionistas.

Can Zoe stop girls from behaving badly toward other girls, and turn them into a strong, united force that can succeed in our male-dominated world? Or will her spectacularly warped sense of humor, pathetic wardrobe, and plethora of psychosomatic illnesses get her eaten alive?

Zoe's willing to risk losing it all, including her mind, but she'll walk away with something she never dreamed she wanted: the little girl hiding inside of her.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Lessing brings back fictional fashion-forward magazine Issues and its newly minted editorial honcho, sartorially challenged feminist Zoe, sister of She's Got Issues protagonist Chloe Rose. Publisher Dan Princely (aka Chloe's devoted new husband) has gone gaga for Zoe's agenda and gives her a mandate to revamp the magazine's usual fare of shoes, makeup and shopping into a manifesto of female empowerment, decorum and personal growth. Zoe renames the magazine Miss Understanding and gleefully introduces it to the staff as a didactic, humorless instruction manual. The staff, predictably, hate Zoe and are willing to go to any length to sabotage her: they include stylish nasties Sloane and Blaire; perennially drunken promotions department head Ruth; and even Dan's regal, evil mother, Anita. As the antics escalate, Zoe's droning, pompous rants on the evils of style and the necessity of fixing female friendship become longer, angrier and more Dworkin-esque, without being funny. By the time the book devolves into a schematic pitched battle between the united, righteous sisters and the psycho, infantile staff, it's hard to care about who's switching covers on the magazine right before it goes to press or how Zoe's running trials with pregnancy will play out. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Fashion freelancer Lessing introduced sisters Zoe and Chloe in her first novel, She's Got Issues. While that book focused on ditzy Chloe, now the spotlight shines on smart but strangely clueless Zoe. A former columnist for The Radical Mind, not to mention a fashion disaster, Zoe is an unlikely editor at Issues, the fluffy fashion magazine that she and the owner (her brother-in-law, Dan) want to turn into a serious, woman-empowering publication. Several underhanded staff members, however, resist her quirky editorial ideas ("Why You Find Yourself Strangely Attracted to Your Best Friend's Bald, Fat Fianc "), embroiling Zoe in the kind of female power struggle she deplores. Fortuitously, Zoe's long-lost best friend from second grade works at the magazine, and they join forces. This book should interest readers who like glamorous cat fights la Lauren Weisberger's The Devil Wears Prada, but its appeal is somewhat lessened by Zoe's unrelenting oddness. An obsessive-compulsive and hypochondriac, she is a difficult character, although she does have flashes of real humor. Recommended for larger chick-lit collections. Lisa Davis-Craig, Canton P.L., MI Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Radical feminist editor takes over a women's-fashion magazine. Lessing's debut, She's Got Issues (not reviewed), introduced Chloe Rose and Issues, a glossy fashion magazine. This sequel focuses on Chloe's sister Zoe. Zoe Rose is hired as Deputy Editor at Issues, and her goal is to turn the publication into a feminist literary review. Zoe's first act is to rename the magazine Miss Understanding. Her next step is to develop an editorial agenda that will delve into why it is that women are so mean to each other. Zoe never overcame grade-school ostracism-this is her vilify-the-popular-girls-who-terrorized-their-nerdy-classmates moment. In Lessing's hands, Zoe is turned into an utter clich‚-a friendless, combat-boot wearing feminazi. According to Zoe, anyone who cares a whit about his or her outward appearance is a Barbie-loving threat to female power. Zoe quickly alienates most of her staff and loses the majority of her readers. In what is offered up as irony, Zoe becomes pregnant. And guess what else? It's a girl! Will Zoe be able to stick to her mission and save ignorant women from obsessing about all the wrong things while simultaneously suffering through every single unsavory side effect of pregnancy? Not a chance. Due to internal sabotage and Zoe's incoherent articles, the magazine is doomed to failure. The only thing left to salvage are Zoe's relationships with her boyfriend and family. Lessing fails to elevate her prose to the level required of satire. The book is neither funny nor clever, and the characters are either transparent or maddeningly quirky. Ill-conceived attempt to satirize the chick-lit genre.

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Read an Excerpt

Miss Understanding

By Stephanie Lessing

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Stephanie Lessing
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0061133884

Chapter One

I'm not sure if this qualifies as some sort of obsessive compulsion or just a simple fear of children, but I've just taken my third consecutive home pregnancy test and I'm about to reach for my fourth. One can never be too sure, that's why I've taken to buying these little sticks in bulk.

Of course the results are always negative, because the truth is I've only gotten my period maybe a handful of times in my entire life--and I'm about to turn thirty. There's obviously something wrong with me.

Something very unfemale.

And yet, I live in fear.

After twenty-six rings, I pick up the phone and then hang it back up. I like to think this is our little signal but in all likelihood Chloe isn't aware of the fact that I'm trying to avoid her, which I can only manage to do for so long--because she keeps calling back.


"Hi, it's me."

"So I imagined."

"I was just wondering what you're planning to wear tomorrow."

"Shouldn't you be asleep? It's nine-thirty."

"I was asleep. I had a nightmare."

"About my clothes?"

"You were wearing a turban."

"Don't worry, I won't embarrass you."

"Just tell me so I can picture it."

"Either shorts or sweats, something nice, I'll see."

"I'mgetting up and coming over to help you."

"No you're not. Go back to bed."

"Zoe, you have to make them think you're an ally. If you dress yourself, you'll show up looking like an angry, confrontational, anti-social freak, who came from left field. Let me help you at least appear to be one of them."

"I appreciate your faith in me, but the truth is I refuse to use some sort of wardrobing affectation as a tool to influence people. Either they'll like and accept my ideas for the magazine or they won't. I couldn't care less what they think of my appearance."

"So, really what you're saying is you have no idea what to wear."

"That too. But I'm on the verge of a breakthrough."

"I know that's not true and I know you're pretending not to care. You're the one who always says, 'clothes make the man because they can make a woman believe anything.' "

"When did I ever say that?"

"I don't know, but it got stuck in my head somehow. Even though I'm not even sure what it means."

"Me neither, but if I did say it, I'm sure it was in the context of not giving a shit. There's no sense in trying to hide what I am. I'm sure Dan's already explained to the editors that I intend to make changes in the magazine--changes that reflect my values. I don't think they're expecting someone to walk in there dressed like a model. But if you're that afraid, come over and do what you have to do. I'll wear whatever you want me to wear. I've got eight million other more important things to worry about and I'd like to get started obsessing on them right away. So let's get this over with."

When Chloe arrives at my apartment, she's wearing a velour sweat outfit with some kind of skirt over her pants, an abnormally long, skinny, knitted scarf around her neck--and a pair of well-oiled cowboy boots. All this and it's about eighty degrees outside.

"Is it cold in your apartment?" I ask.

"Don't worry, I won't pick out anything like this for you. I was half asleep when I got dressed."

"I'm not worried. I don't have any sort of ranch-wear or anything velour. In fact, I've got nothing. You were right in suspecting I was exaggerating when I hinted at a breakthrough. All I did was walk into my closet and then walk back out. I can't imagine how you're going to pass me off as Deputy Editor of anything, least of all a fashion magazine."

"I thought Michael finally threw that thing away," she says pointing to the "Save the Peregrine Falcon" T-shirt I'm wearing. I've had it since middle school and it still fits me. For some reason, I stopped growing in seventh grade.

"Nope. I still have it. He tries to hide it from me every now and then but I always find it." I look down at my T-shirt. The picture of the falcon is so hideous and frightening, no one would want to save it, and yet I can't part with it. I have a thing for unlovable birds.

My sister and I make small talk for about thirty seconds and then she heads off to my closet to do her job. I follow her into my room and sit on the bed facing the window, trying to make it clear that I'm ignoring her, but she doesn't notice things like being ignored and immediately tries to get me involved.

"How is this possible?" she calls out.

"How is what possible?" I call back.

"Everything in here is pea green."

"Pea green is my favorite color."

There's a few moments of blissful silence but then she starts in again. "You don't even own a belt or one pair of normal-looking shoes or any panty hose with feet and believe it or not, I just found your field hockey skirt from eighth grade." Suddenly the tone of her voice changes and she says, "Although we might actually be able to use this somehow."

I walk over and take a quick look at my sister who's sitting on the floor of my grossly oversized closet, looking up. She's always been the type of person who believes that if you pray very, very hard, things you really want will fall from the ceiling. She looks so hopeful in there despite the fact that the only thing my closet is really good for is hiding cartons of art supplies I have no intention of unpacking. I haven't painted anything in months. At this point it's healthier if I just forget I ever tried and use the cartons for additional seating--particularly since I'm not really into decorating with furniture in the traditional sense.


Excerpted from Miss Understanding by Stephanie Lessing Copyright © 2006 by Stephanie Lessing. Excerpted by permission.
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.

Meet the Author

Stephanie Lessing is a former Copy Chief at Mademoiselle, and has freelanced for Mademoiselle, Vogue, Glamour, Vanity Fair, Conde Nast Traveler, and Self. Miss Understanding is her second novel.

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Miss Understanding 2.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I never thought this book would actually go somewhere with the storyline. I was about to pull my hair out trying to finish it and hoping that it would turn around. It doesn't.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I purchased this book online while looking for a good rainy day, escapism book. I was sorely disappointed. The main character was sullen, rude, crass, disorganized, slovenly and clearly insane. What sane woman can't put together an outfit to go to work without the aid of safety pins, can't rationalize that wearing undergarments should go without speaking, and would assume that a several pages long manifesto which insults everyone (not to mention kind of grosses them out) would help an ailing woman's magazine boost its readership? Feminism and insults are very different things. I am not one to give up on a book. I tried to look past all my initial thoughts, hoping that it would get better. Unfortunately it did not. By page 50 in fact, I had to throw in the towel. I can't imagine that the writer could envision such a character nor that HarperCollins would publish it. I'm only relieved that I purchased the book as a bargain book. Sadly, it wasn't even worth that small investment.
Pheadsgirl More than 1 year ago
What a fabulous book! The character of Zoe is fun to watch progress. She sticks to her beliefs which is such a relief to see in chick lit. I definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for something with more substance.
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harstan More than 1 year ago
Publisher Dan Princely thinks highly of his sister-in-law¿s concept to renovate Issues magazine from its non cerebral past of shoes and shopping to focus on female empowerment. He hires his wife¿s sister sartorial-phobic Zoe Rose to revamp the magazine. The under 5 foot under 100 pounds dynamo Zoe changes the name from Issues to MISS UNDERSTANDING, but fails to sell the staff with the concept of an unentertaining how to get ahead ¿technical¿ manual. The staff loathes the concept and detests the aggressive Naopleanette. Separately each vows to destroy Zoe and get royal Dan to fire the royal pain in the butt. Soon battle lines are drawn between the stylish staff and Dan¿s queen mother vs. the ranting anti frilly Zoe supported solely by her as righteous sibling Chloe. --- Satirical though humorless, MISS UNDERSTANDING focuses on the war between the ¿always right morally correct¿ (in their minds) and ¿my way or the highway puerile¿ (sort of sounds like the political parties). As the attacks on Zoe rise, she turns even more obstinate and self indulgent claiming the moral high ground while her enemies become more vindictive, which embellishes the spiral as no one heard of compromise and consensus. Fans of out of control office war character studies will want to read Stephanie Lessing¿s sequel to SHE¿S GOT ISSUES as this time the sister has the issues. --- Harriet Klausner