I first read The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart in the summer before I started high school, just recently turned thirteen years old. Now as I unpack boxes and rediscover many of my old books, I have re-read The Boyfriend List in the fall at the end of my sophomore year in college. I was intrigued by it the first time around because Ruby Oliver’s life was something completely new to me. All the boys, all the drama, all the therapy. Ruby Oliver’s life was pure fiction to me. Now, I’m left a little surprised by the fact that I feel like I re-lived my high school days in this book.
I never thought, at thirteen, that I would ever be able to relate to Ruby Oliver’s life in any way. Sure, I’d had some minor boy and friend drama up to that point, but I mainly kept to myself. Ruby was mildly popular, while I could count my friends on one hand. And then high school hit me like a bus. Suddenly, I was getting asked out, getting kissed for the first time, having awkward first dates. Suddenly, I was like Ruby.
I dealt with mental illness as Ruby dealt with hers. I kissed boys I probably shouldn’t have. I got angry with people who didn’t deserve it. I pined for friendships and relationships that were better left in the past while I had so much better opportunities for people who actually cared right in front of me. I stood a spectator, waiting around for everyone else to make the first move because I was afraid.
I’d like to think that we differ in a few ways, though. I have always enjoyed spending time with both of my parents and have always been very close to my family while Ruby and her parents are a little…complicated. I also wasn’t quite as blunt or closed-minded to individuality as she can be. I always liked the people who were a little weird, while Ruby thinks of them as lepers. But that’s Ruby, and that’s okay because she eventually learns a plethora of life lessons, as I learned different lessons of my own.
In this book, Ruby’s therapist encourages her to write out a “Boyfriend List” consisting of every guy she ever dated, liked, or even thought about in a romantic way at all. It came out to 15 people, and the reader is explained the significance of each one in sequential order.
Her whole situation, the whole reason she was even miserable to begin with, was due to a giant misunderstanding that I can only think to classify as being extremely high school. Friends fall for each other’s significant others, significant others break up, people argue and write nasty things on the bathroom wall, best friends turn into enemies, etc. etc. This book was a collection of nearly all the high school drama stereotypes.
As Ruby so honestly mentions, she doesn’t get over it simply because she decides to move on. Even though it is just high school drama that she won’t care about in a few years, I love that it wasn’t written as if she got over it immediately. Some things from high school haunted me relentlessly for much longer than I ever expected. Some things were beyond difficult to get over, and it definitely did not happen overnight. It all seems insignificant now, but at the time it was not.
When Ruby’s recently ex-boyfriend still takes her to homecoming, flirts relentlessly, and kisses her back when she makes a move (even though he has a new girlfriend), I wanted to scream at her, “Don’t fall for it!” Sure enough, he got caught and blamed it all on her. Thus, creating a downward spiral of craziness that left Ruby feeling suddenly like the leper in her school and having constant anxiety attacks. When her own best friends for years suddenly wanted nothing to do with her, I wanted to tell her that she doesn’t need them. Sure, she made plenty of mistakes with plenty of people, but no one deserves to be treated like Ruby was.
I wanted to remind her that it’s just high school and she will get over it one day, but I know it wouldn’t make any difference because all of that stuff seems very important at the time, even if it amounts to nothing later on. It’s all she knows; she can’t yet see that she will get older and not give a second thought to her ex, it won’t hurt anymore to think about how her best friend betrayed her, and she’ll laugh about how overly dramatic the whole thing was.
All in all, I think this book is wonderfully written. It addresses every idiosyncrasy of high school, from all the awkward encounters to how suddenly everything can change, etc. I wouldn’t exactly suggest it to a younger teenager (12/13/14) because there are some questionable topics, and the message at the end about it all getting easier with time and experience isn’t the easiest to pick up on. It’s a subtle thing that I would really want to make sure the reader notices. Otherwise, it may not have the same impact. Or any impact. Still, I enjoyed reading it from a completely different perspective years later and thoroughly enjoyed it.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading!