The whole time I was reading this book, I kept comparing it to Riley Redgate's NOTEWORTHY, and it kept falling short. NOTEWORTHY was published six years after BABE, and has the advantage of time. It covered a lot of the things that usually bother me about gender-bending books, like bisexual erasure (dude attracted to girl in drag: oh thank god, I know my heterosexuality radar wasn't broken! I'm not REALLY gay! I knew she was a guy all along) or how they can kind of come across as mildly transphobic (or at the very least, mildly insensitive) by appropriating the sorts of techniques that trans people have to do every day to pass and making tons of "I'm practically a boy already since my chest is so flat"-type jokes. Ick.
Gender-bending/girl-in-an-all-boys'-school books have always been a weakness of mine, though, and I can usually overlook some of that if the story is good. The problem is... it really wasn't? Natalie is an advice columnist for her school paper, running a Dear Abby-type column called "Dr. Aphrodite." She's never had a relationship, but just affirms girls in her article by telling them everything they want to hear (think: "yes, he ignores your texts because he's into you and he's so blinded by your beauty that he can't think of what glorious poetry to send you" / "make him choose between you and the Xbox, 'cause girl, you know"). Obviously... this doesn't work, and one day, she finds her fellow editors laughing at the comments (first rule of the internet: don't read the comments) because all these incels and angry ex-boyfriends have taken umbrage with the way that she has rallied the women-folk against them with her bad advice. Natalie is suddenly in danger of losing her column, and she decides she needs to do serious reporting. So while at a party, she starts asking guys what they really think, like why they won't call when they say they well.
Spoiler: it doesn't work.
Since boys are such lying, twisted creatures, Natalie decides hat the only way to get her answers is by becoming a boy. Luckily, one of her friends just happens to know a hacker who despite being a teenager, makes himself home at the FBI's virtual files, so of course he can toggle his way into the admissions roster and make her a student at an all boys' boarding school. And I guess Natalie's parents are the stupidest parents alive, because they see nothing sus about her being MIA for a week, spending literally every night at a friend's house, working on an inter-disciplinary project about biology and history... because that's what the teens do, you know. Spend the night getting all taxonomical.
Anyway, Natalie goes to the boys' school and is like, "Wow, being a boy is so hard. I have to keep remembering to stop swinging my hips and twirling my hair!" And I was like ... This girl has zero chill. She announces to the whole world that she's using a stall but "not because she has to pinch a loaf." While reading this book I kept thinking it was reminding me of something and then it hit me just now: the Disney Channel, circa the Hannah Montana years. The years where everyone wore neon outfits and teens shouted their way into every scene and all of the adults were total idiots.
I probably would have loved this book when I was a teen but sadly I'm reading it in my 30s and I'm none too impressed. I think the author was trying to poke fun at gender norms instead of upholding them, but the book really hasn't aged all that well, and it really does come across as being quite stereotypical and bad to me while reading it now.
1.5 out of 5 stars