Imagine: It’s the early 2000’s. Your room is decorated with the pull-out posters from the teen magazines you begged for in the check-out line at the market. On those posters? The heartthrob boys from your favorite boyband (cough, cough, One Direction). You find out you’re not only going to a super cool concert to see this band, but you get to MEET THEM!
This might sound like the glorious beginning to a 2010 Tumblr post, but it’s actually the beginning of the plot to my new favorite book, The Idea of You, by Robinne Lee!
Through my favorite podcast, Bad on Paper, I learned about this masterpiece, where one of the co-hosts, Becca Freeman, fangirled over it for WEEKS! She took down hundreds with this recommendation, and far later than I wish I would have, I fell prey. I haven’t read a book recommended by Becca that I didn’t like, but I forgot about this book as it was an earlier book club episode that I skipped at the time since I hadn’t read it. It was not until I found the book at a used bookstore that I decided to give it a try, and after reading it, I’m here to share that I would pay full-price for this book a million times over.
Back to the plot!
Isabel, the pre-teen daughter, who is hot and heavy for “August Moon” (thinly veiled One Direction), a few friends, and her mother, Soléne, make the trip to see the concert. During the meet and greet, Hayes (thinly veiled Harry Styles) has quite an eye for Soléne, who is quite literally twice his age. Soléne is a chic art gallery owner who is french and has impeccable fashion taste. She also seems to be quite stunning. She can sense he is flirting with her, but takes it as flattery and moves on with her life, returning home with an ego boost and a happy daughter.
That is until Hayes hunts her down via her art gallery in Los Angeles and insists on taking her out.
CUE AN INCREDIBLE LOVE STORY!
I do not want to give too much away because I NEED everyone to read this book to feel as obsessed as I am. The love story that follows is so many things wrapped up into a 372-page book that I stayed up until 4 am reading. Worth it. The writing is beautiful, poetic, and captivating. There are phrases and scenes that had me hanging onto every word and clearly seeing the scenes in my head. Absolutely stunning.
There are two things I want to discuss that this book made me think strongly about.
The first thing being a quote that sat with me for DAYS after reading. It comes while Soléne, Hayes, and a few of Soléne’s colleagues are at a dinner discussing pop music and art.
“It’s art. And it makes people happy. And that’s a very good thing. We have this problem in our culture. We take art that appeals to women—film, books, music—and we undervalue it. We assume it can’t be high art. Especially if it’s not dark and tortured and wailing. And it follows that much of that art is created by other women, and so we undervalue them as well. We wrap it up in a pretty pink package and resist calling it art.”
I felt this quote SO hard because it’s wildly accurate. Any art that appeals to a demographic of, primarily women, is consistently devalued—Taylor Swift, Boybands, “chick-flicks,” romance novels, etc. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard from a man that “Taylor Swift isn’t real music” or growing up that “One Direction wasn’t real music”. It’s insulting and quite patriarchial. I wanted to high-five Robinne Lee for tackling this issue so gracefully but poignantly.
The second- celebrity culture. In the book, Hayes tells Soléne, who being forty is a bit out of the fangirling over boyband days, how wild these fans can be, how they will stalk her to find any detail. This comes to fruition several times over the novel as they get trapped in shops by mobs, blind items come out, and Soléne even gets death threats sent to her house and her gallery via the mail and phone calls. Now, growing up in the height of the One Direction and Taylor Swift craze, I can remember following a dozen Instagram fan accounts that would decipher every little paparazzi photo, tweet, or whereabout. I would never stoop to the level of death threats or physical stalking, but I remember stories of people who did.
In this novel, readers can see the effect of this sort of obsession, and reading it from Hayes and Soléne’s perspective made me feel sad for celebrities. Not even just sad, but questioning why we do this? We pick apart every morsel of these people’s lives, write horrible headlines about them, dissect their bodies on television, and give them a narrative that no one even knows is true. While I enjoy learning everything about Taylor Swift’s life and participating in guessing what her songs are about, this novel made me think deeply about how that became our culture. Especially 2000s pop era fangirling, which, to be honest, 2010s pop is my favorite genre, but BOY was that a weird time to be alive.
There are so many other things I could talk about here, but most of them have to do with motherhood and marriage, and I, having no children or ever being married, don’t feel close enough to the issues to speak on them. But know that Soléne juggles being a mother while being her person, and having an (in my opinion) awful ex-husband who is disgusted at her for dating so young, even though he left her for a younger woman. Certainly not a twenty-year-old, but it still offers the conversation for the double standard of judgment women face.
These characters live rent-free in my mind, and I need a sequel, a movie, a tv show, SOMETHING!
All in all, RUN, don’t walk to get this masterpiece. Then you can listen to Bad on Paper’s discussion of it here and even listen to Robinne Lee (who seems like the coolest person ever and obviously an incredible writer) discuss it on the bonus episode!