Ava and Lauren Nickerson have their distinct roles — and they play them well. Lawyer Ava, the older sister, is rational, organized and the caretaker, while wild child retail employee Lauren is scatter-brained, flirty and loose . . . with her money.
The girls are brought together in Los Angeles after their mother is diagnosed with cancer, and Lauren is forced to finally confront her issues with spending and immaturity while Ava, always the stable one, must find a way to open up — both to her family and the potential for love.
Claire LaZebnik’s The Smart One And The Pretty One is the story of two sisters trying to understand each other as adults — while simultaneously boosting each other as they share difficult experiences. And though I wanted to like the Nickerson girls and cheer for them from the get-go, I just had too many issues with this book.
Firstly, both sisters felt like such stereotypes to me. Ava is a lawyer (yes, of course she is) while Lauren worked at a fashionable boutique, stocking up on clothes and other items she couldn’t really afford. She’s materialistic — and a little bratty. She craves the spotlight and demands it of everyone in her life. In terms of stereotypes, she’s the poster child for “youngest sister,” while Ava has her post as “mature big sister” all locked up.
I never felt like I really got to know either of them. I was standing at a distance, looking in as they dealt with their myriad of problems. (Myriad. Something was always an issue.) Part of what kept me disconnected was the narrative voice — third person — and the fact that I couldn’t get into the minds of either woman. The novel would have functioned better for me if it were told by one of the sisters — preferrably Ava because she annoyed me far less, though Lauren’s insight might have helped me understand her better as a character.
Because as it was? I wanted to pop Lauren in her lipstick-coated mouth. A subplot develops where she meets Daniel, a man who is caring for his sick mother at the hospital where Mrs. Nickerson is getting care. And Daniel? A world-class, first-rate, total and complete jackass. I could spot that from the second he was described as yelling at the hospital staff — yelling — in a quiet corridor of the facility reserved for sick cancer patients. Um, really? And the fact that Ava, after meeting Daniel, doesn’t say something to her sister about what a jerk this guy obviously is annoyed me even more. If my little sister showed up with some loser in my apartment, you better believe I’d be giving that guy such an evil eye that he wouldn’t be even glancing at my sister from then on.
I’m serious. I hated that guy.
Meh, I could continue on . . . mostly about what I disliked about the individual characters and plot. But that seems a little unnecessary. While we saw the Nickerson daughters evolve by the end of the novel, it just wasn’t enough to redeem them in my eyes. While LaZebnik can certainly write, I didn’t identify or like any of her characters — and like a fight with my own sister, The Smart One And The Pretty One left me with an unsettled feeling in my stomach.
2 out of 5!