Contemporary · review · Thriller · YA

Blonde Ops by Charlotte Bennardo and Natalie Zaman


Hardcover, 288 pages
Published May 6th, 2014 by St. Martin’s GriffinSource: Raincoast Books

Blonde Ops promises a lot of fun and shenanigans but delivers very little of either. When Rebecca Jackson is expelled from yet another boarding school, her executive mother (the readers are never told what her parents do though we gather from the hints given that they are prominent in the business world) ships her off to Rome where one of her friends, the editor of a fashion magazine, is. This friend has settled in Rome temporarily while working on an issue based in Rome.

Bec gets a nasty surprise when she finds out that she has landed in an unpaid intern position when all she would rather do is hole up in her room in front of her computer, hacking, as is her wont. Parker, her mother’s friend, informs her of the fictional Mrs. Barack Obama’s impending arrival and the security concerns associated with her visit before getting into a severe accident that is suspicious for all sorts of reasons. Parker is replaced by Candace Worthington, a super model designer type person with Miranda-esque qualities. Bec decides that it is she and not all the trained and more intelligent people present who can get to the bottom of Parker’s accident and save the First Lady from getting kidnapped or worse.

There are several things wrong with this book. Now, this is supposed to be a light, fluffy read so I didn’t expect any grand discourse on the meaning of self and the quest for identity but I did expect something smart. Considering the high intellect of the protagonist, I don’t think I was wrong in expecting Rebecca to have razor sharp wit or if not that, to have an internal voice that is engaging and cultured considering her upbringing. She has seen more of the world than is possible for the majority of the teens her age. She has been places and probably done things that should reflect in the way she sees the world and the way she constructs herself  in it. Unfortunately, Rebecca is neither engaging nor does she have anything profound to say. We’ll get to the ridiculous romance later.

What concerns me is the heavy reliance on stereotypes in this novel and the subtextual racism. Consider the treatment of all people of colour: Parker, an African-American woman, is superficially shown to have power in the beginning, being the editor of a famous magazine. Almost immediately, she is removed from that position of power and is largely absent from the narrative being replaced by a white, bitchier version of her. Dante, the Italian boy who for reasons unknown to me is in love with Rebecca (or her American-ness) is stereotyped as having too many cousins etc. Dante is in love with America so much that he dismisses the history and beauty of Italy and Rome in favour of…you know, I do not understand why he loves America so much.

I understand that Brazilians and Indians share similar features but do not insult my intelligence by insinuating that a Brazilian person is indistinguishable from an Indian person. Perhaps not to you, dear authors, who see the world in shades of white, but for people who are a different colour than you, differences exist and they are substantial. A character who identifies himself as belonging to a race he does not will raise questions. And then there is Oritz. Another person of colour whose presentation is suspect. The First Lady is portrayed as this Mother Theresa-esque woman who barely has a voice in the narrative and is doing good things but is criminally negligent of her own safety.

Now for the ridiculous romance. There is a love triangle which is not at all interesting because the reader doesn’t understand why, in an environment filled with models and smarter women, any boy would fall for Rebecca. Rebecca goes around kissing both boys which hey, if that’s the way she rolls, is cool and dandy, but when there is no meaning attached to the romance except as fan service and neither boy has any purpose in the narrative except to elevate Rebecca’s position as an object of desire and envy, then I have issues with the romance.

For someone who makes a lot of noise about her hacking and her equipment, Rebecca displays a remarkable lack of skills when she lets “Raj” once and again slip easily behind her defences and have his way with her so called equipment. In a similar tone, the plot of the novel is simple and anticlimactic as the primary conflict is easily resolved by the super amazingness that is Rebecca.

I did not enjoy the novel and cannot recommend it to you.

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