The Cute Girl Network
The Cute Girl Network looks like a modern romance novel, but there’s more to it than just a love story. Jane and Jack meet when she wipes out in front of him in a hipster-stocked town. Jack is something of a clumsy loser, selling soup from a food cart. Jane has recently moved to town, working at a skateboard shop and putting up with stupid guys who think she can’t skate because she’s a girl.
The two slowly grow on each other and start dating (with a great list of cheap things to do, including a visit to a vending machine graveyard). As written by Greg Means and MK Reed, they live in a world of roommates, shared meals, crafts, crazy public art, and energy without enough outlet.
While Jack gets bad advice from his clueless Neanderthal roommate, Jane is taken under the wing of the Network, a group of women who want to prevent “awesome girls” from going out with “total losers”. Harriet introduces Jane to some of Jack’s former dates, all of whom have horrible (but funny to the reader) stories about how much of a dork he was.
Joe Flood’s art is full of background detail, setting up a strong sense of place and lifestyle. His characters are likable in their expressiveness. Jack looks like Shaggy, with an exaggerated nose and chin that reinforces his inadvertent clownishness.
The Network is a neat idea, until you start thinking about it. Even with the best intentions, the women wind up perpetuating the idea that guys can’t improve, when they just need to find the right girl to match and appreciate them. I understand why friends would want to prevent intelligent girls from settling “for less than she deserves”, but the fact is, no one else can determine that for you. There’s a subtle air of jealousy — “why does she see something in him I didn’t?” — and a feeling of dating as an achievement activity, with resentment over time wasted if it doesn’t work out.
Good dating stories at some point give me the feeling “wow, I’m glad I’m happily married”, because for all of the exhilaration of new romance, there’s also a lot of uncertainty and discouragement. This book fits that description, although with plenty of imagination and friendship to get through the rough spots. There’s an air of aimlessness underlying the story, evocative of life today as a young adult until one figures out what matters.
Harriet is a complicated character, a woman we know nothing about beyond her actions marshaling the Network. She lectures Jane on being “open-minded” towards the girls who share their histories while refusing to consider Jack anything but a disaster. She buys into ideas of what typical dates should be while bemoaning vampire romance novels. I’m assuming that she’s trying to control Jane’s choices as a way of making up for feeling powerless in her own love life, but that’s likely me reading into her character my own assumptions about the type.
Beyond the love story, which I enjoyed seeing develop, I’m left with some intriguing questions about the nature of sisterhood, its flaws and strengths. Also, no relationship should be a vote on anything more than whether two people are good for each other. That’s the nice message here, about no one being right for everyone, that a good partnership comes from an honest assessment of strengths and weaknesses and how they fit together. Jack may be dumb, but he supports Jane in what she enjoys doing and appreciates her for it.
The Cute Girl Network has an art blog at CuteGirlNetwork.com. (The publisher provided a review copy.)