Reviewed by John Jacobson, aka "R.J. Jacobs" for TeensReadToo.com
Take four sixteen-year-old girls: Charlie, Keiran, Brooke, and Hallie, each different and a unique personality. Charlie is the group leader, entertaining and peppy. Keiran, her long-time best friend, is quiet and always stuck babysitting her annoying siblings. Hallie is the flirt, both extremely pretty and constantly modest about what her boy skills do. Brooke is the one who wants fame and glory, and to get out of Cliffside and her life as the daughter of two farmers. The offer to do a reality show for Fire and Ice, the new MTV, is just too good to pass up for these girls. Before they know it, they're rocketing towards fame and fortune, and they can't get enough of it.
Of course, once the cameras start rolling, things don't go as planned. 'Scripted reality' just isn't cutting it. Either they have to redo scenes, or they fight because of one thing or another. And when the previews for the show start to come in...they realize that what they say on screen is entirely different from off. Then Brooke starts getting buddy-buddy with one of her old-time rivals, and a smattering of envy at Charlie's position as the show's star. Cliffside is seeing enough drama with this new reality series - but with the constant problems of this once-close group of friends, they may be getting too much.
With a reality show style book, characterization is hard to work. Pretty much every book, this one included, has each girl as a personality archetype that fits the reality television standard. While it gets annoying after a while, I felt like Calonita really pulled off a good balance between the archetype and a fresh character. Charlie was an excellent protagonist to use; I love that she is the rock of the group instead of the one being changed by the spotlight. Her solid personality and ultimate goal of friendship was wonderful - heck, even her motivation for doing the show was great. Instead of thinking about fame, she thinks about paying for college, which is a lot more levelheaded than most heroines of books like this. Kieran and Hallie were also favorites of mine: Kieran being a great example of a quiet friend that, while maybe not the most outgoing personality, holds a special type of friendship with Charlie, and Hallie being well-rounded in that she flirts and is outright beautiful, but is searching for long-term relationships and not reveling in her popularity with the male sex. Brooke was an interesting turn from heroine to villainess throughout the book, and the way fame changed her was very saddening to me, as a reader, because of the strong portrayal of the group of friends before the fame got to her.
As for the events....it really turned out like L.A. CANDY. It wasn't bad by any means - I liked the ending of the book a lot - but in the beginning, it's the same set-up of getting pulled into reality television for what it really is, and being duped by a producer that aims at getting ratings more than a good group of friends out of the deal. My main quip with it was that, until the last third of the novel, it didn't move as quickly as I would have liked. The drama wasn't as dramatic because of all of the characterization going on. While I liked said characterization, a faster plot would have been great. The romantic side bit with Charlie and her crush, however, was a great highlight. It was nice to see a generally good girl going for a sensible guy, and the relationship was really cute and frustrating.
REALITY CHECK provides teenagers with a look at what fame through reality television is like without the glitz and the glamor. The drama breaks friendships and causes people to drift apart, and getting caught up in the fame never bodes well. Jealousy, envy, deceit, and ignorance are all big themes that play a role in the fame card, and Calonita displays each one well in the adventures of these four - or three, as the case may be - friends.
As someone who has gone through and seen a lot of these types of changes in people, reading REALITY CHECK hit home in a lot of areas. It could have been more exciting and fast-paced, but the portrayal of real teenagers and real friendships is just too good to miss. If you need a good dose of Chick-Lit with a good writing style, then run to Jen Calonita. She's already worked her way to becoming a new favorite author in the same vein as Meg Cabot - fun books with real messages.