Book review: ‘Hot Mess: Summer In The City’ by Julie Kraut and Shallon Lester

Emma Freeman and Rachel Wolfe are busting out of the suburbs and heading to the city — the big city. Securing (unpaid) summer internships through Mommy and Daddy’s connections, the girls arrive in New York City with inflated egos and no real plan. They secure a few nights in a hotel while they try to find a place to live — um, excellent planning on their part — and begin the process of finding some eligible boys with whom to canoodle.

Cash goes quick in the city, they soon learn, and Emma has to find a way to make it last. Throw in a creepy, ridiculous boss who demands to be called The Dorf, a hot new coworker without a clue as to Emma’s real age and wannabe-celebutante roommate Jayla, and what have you got? Well, one hot mess of a summer.

When Hot Mess: Summer In The City was published in 2008, I’m guessing it might have felt hip. The novel is filled with constant pop culture references to folks like Lindsay and Britney — back before they both went totally insane. (Or were on that track, anyway.) And with all the antics and ridiculousness over time, Emma and Rachel might have started to feel like buddies — girls with whom we could relate and appreciate. But instead? The whole thing was painful. Reading began to feel like a chore.

mountain of a chore.

The jokes I’ve been penning regarding the title and the, um, content of this one are endless. In fact, I got so bored while reading that I started writing this review in my head, going over and over exactly how terrible it was and figuring out what portions of the plot, terrible dialogue, unrealistic characters and bad parenting I wanted to highlight first.

My beef with the story began pretty much on page one. I’ve never read a young adult novel that felt more like an adult (in this case, two adults) writing a young adult novel. The dialogue, “lingo” (if you can call it that) and vernacular the teens use felt dated, stilted and unbelievable — even to me. There’s no way a teen would talk the way Emma and Rachel do. And their dialogue was littered with profanity and crude statements — stuff that, as otherwise “classy” girls, they would never have said.

And let’s go ahead and talk about stereotypes in young adult fiction for a second. You seriously expect me to believe the parents of two 17-year-olds would ship their daughters off to New York City for months without even arranging a place for them to stay? Honestly? We’re led to believe these are otherwise rational, “good” parents who have no problem with their underage girls using Craigslist to find an apartment. In New York City. Alone. Clearly they have more money than sense. Emma and Rachel’s parents rarely appear except to be the objects of derision — as in, “Oh, I’ll lie to my dad and tell him I had to buy these clothes on his credit card because the apartment got flooded or something and he’ll never know, that idiot!” It never ends.

At several points in the otherwise ridiculous story, I was literally offended. Rachel’s internship takes place at a magazine run by women, which prompts her to often make comments about how she’s working with lesbians. It’s a feminist magazine. Being a feminist does not automatically make one homosexual, and even if it did? Of course there’s nothing wrong with that. The girls talk about it like it’s horrifying, this idea of working with lesbians. At several points in the book. So not only do I dislike these characters as being vapid, shallow creatures, but now I dislike them for being homophobes, too.

Seriously, though, the book was just boring. Emma’s job was boring. Her social life was boring. Her love life was boring. She hates her job. She hates her boss. Rachel is always abandoning her. Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. Whine. Whine. Whine. Whine. She writes in a journal. We’re supposed to think she’s a good writer. Her boss is ridicul0us but supposedly funny, but all of Derek’s antics just seem stupid. I never laughed. In fact, if I had any reaction to anything I was reading, it was probably to roll my eyes.

I made it about 150 pages in before a love interest was introduced and for once I was screaming, “Bring on the boys already!” Normally I’m exasperated at that novels center around the girls falling in love to the detriment of any other plot point, but I thought introducing a hot guy was the only thing that could save this one for me. Too bad the “hot boy” was Colin, a 23-year-old coworker of Emma’s. Who didn’t know that Emma, in addition to being just a lowly intern in their office, wasn’t legal. And it took a good, long while for him to find out the truth. Awkward — and gross. Plus, why would someone like Colin — successful, handsome and smart — be interested in Emma? She can’t go a beat without mentioning how awkward and unsteady she is around him. Is she supposed to be drop-dead gorgeous or something? Must have missed that part.

I know I’m not a teen — and this is a book aimed at teenagers. But there are a million and one young adult fiction books I’ve read and loved, completely separate from the fact that I’m not the “intended” audience for a work. A good book is a good book, regardless of genre, and this? This is not a good book. Whether you’re a 14-year-old or a 30-year-old, this is not a good book.

Okay. I’m done. I’m not normally mean in reviews and I dislike being a critical psycho, but this book was beyond redemption for me. I skimmed the last 50 pages because I had zero interest in what happened to these people, but I wanted to genuinely say I’d given in it a real chance. The only thing I liked about it was the colorful cover, so that earns one star from me.

Everything about Hot Mess screamed “2008!”, and I’m wondering if this is the sort of novel we’ll read ten years from now and sigh wistfully at all the time-period-specific references. But I’m thinking probably not — considering this book will have faded into oblivion by then. At least, I really hope so.

2 out of 5!

ISBN: 0805090819 ♥ Purchase from AmazonJulie Kraut’s Website
Personal copy obtained through BookMooch

15 thoughts on “Book review: ‘Hot Mess: Summer In The City’ by Julie Kraut and Shallon Lester

  1. When I started to read your review I was thinking that they couldn’t have picked an uglier cover for a book, I’m sort of happy that the cover isn’t the only bad thing about this book. The book sounds truly horrendous. It’s weird how sometimes authors want to write Young Adult so badly that they completely mess up the language and characters.

    And what is it about the word feminism (or gender studies for that matter) that makes people think of lesbians right away? It’s such a stupid stereotype.


  2. After reading your review I can’t believe you gave this book 2 stars! Sounds to me like 0.5 stars–gotta give some credit to the authors for putting pen to paper.


  3. Oh my goodness, I’m definitely staying 100 feet away from this title. I’m not sure if this book is worse than the review I wrote on Queen of His Heart by Adrianne Byrd, where the leading man talks way too much during sex. Lol. I really hope these books fade into oblivion too! Great post!


  4. I’m so did you give this a 2?! You’ve written reviews that weren’t this terrible and given it worse ratings.

    This sounds TERRIBLE, but I’m tempted to pick it up as a “what not to do” when writing a YA book.

    Whew- good review for a bad book!


    • So true! I gave a star for the book simply existing and someone publishing this mess (points for effort, I suppose), and then one star for the cover.

      It’s not too scientific, but I can only say that I didn’t hate it quite as much as, say, Sundays At Tiffany’s, and that was a 1.5-star read. So this earns a big ol’ sloppy 2-star rating from me!


  5. thanks for the review! at least i know to steer clear from it. i might of picked up this book just because of the cover and boy would that have been a mistake.


  6. Amazing! It sounds like this book suffered from a lot of the delusions and escapes from reality that Beautiful Malice did for me. Lesson learned: avoid all books with the words “Hot Mess” in the title! 😉


  7. Well, that’s one book with a prophetic title!
    I hate when authors “date” books by adding details that are “in” the year it is published. I had similar thoughts while reading Pretty Little Liars, even if it’s only been published a few years ago!
    Great review Meg. I’ll make sure not to read this one!


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