Title: How To Be Manly
Author: Maureen O'Leary Wanket
Publisher: Giant Squid Books
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Length: 198 pages (PDF ARC)
Publication Date: September 16th, 2014
When Rachel from Giant Squid Books contacted me about this book, I must admit I hesitated. I don't usually read contemporary, and I was afraid I would not be able to compose a good review. After a bit of deliberation, I decided to bite the bullet and take the challenge of reading and reviewing 'How To Be Manly'. And, my, I must say that I don't regret my decision.
At heart, 'How To Be Manly' is a light-hearted, yet meaningful and touching coming-of-age tale. It revolves around the life of Matthew Sullivan, a heavyset sixteen year old boy who enjoys food (his cake-baker grandma's homemade cake and cooking, especially), has exactly two close friends -- one a boy with shyness/social issues and another one a bad boy by the town's standard, is failing his Math class, and has a crush on his 'friend' Cassie. Throughout a beautifully woven string of 'ordinary' (by a high-fantasy and dystopia lover standard, that is!) events [SPOILER] including a disastrous end of schoolyear party, a fateful trip to a yard-sale in which Matty meets his saviour in the form of an old copy of a book, a football camp, a horrible act done by Matty's irresponsible-immature-absent father to the family, and the mistakes Matty made in his quest to save the family he knows , Maureen O'Leary-Wanket takes us readers on Matty's bumpy ride to (young) adulthood. Whilst Matty's story seems so familiar to me (in my reader life and in my life as a person), I still found myself quite enchanted by his journey. O'Leary-Wanket knows how to write a page-turner which captures your attention to the end despite the light, warm vibe. I finished this book in one single sitting (about two hours), and enjoyed every moment I spent with it. It began and end in such good points that I found myself smiling for Matty and his journey to be Manly (yes, that is a capital M, and there is a reason for it).
'How To Be Manly' has a relatively small cast, although I guess it is just the right size for a contemporary. The star of the story is, of course, Matty. He locked my attention from get go, his problems with weight, family, and unrequited crush. From the start, we are exposed to the flaws of his character; his reluctance to exercise, his general passive nature (which will change throughout the story), his (normal) occasional laziness, and his denial of several obvious things. But we are also made aware of his potential, and of the support network he has in his grandmother and the townfolks. I was delighted to see Matty's transformations through the page, to see him finally seeing things clearly, being proactive, and finding a love/first relationship he can cherish. Matty is no superhuman and not an intense dystopia hero with dark past. But he goes through his own journey of self discovery, and thus is a hero in his own right -- a relatable one.
Whilst we don't get to see much of the supporting cast (apart from grandma, who is an admirable force on her own right), I got a strong sense of how they influence Matty's journey. His sick grandfather, his grandmother who is trying her best to help others and hold her own, his absent father who is an absolute egoist (and 'egoist' is a mild word, mind you), his elderly neighbor, his two best friends, his crush Cassie, the coach's family... everyone. There is a saying that 'it takes a whole village to raise a child', and we get to see how true this saying is in 'How To Be Manly'. It is Matty who wants a change, yes -- but it is others who help him making it happen. Overall, I like the supporting cast and their roles in the story. It's also worth noting that even though some of them are there to drive the plot, they feel well fleshed-out, not just a cookie cutter/placeholder.
'How To Be Manly' was written in Matty's 1st person boyish (or should I say 'manly'?) voice. It is straight forward and easy to read, simple yet honest. Overall I like the writing style.
'How To Be Manly' was a good, satisfying light read. While it has some general elements of coming-of-age contemporary, it is a distinct book on its own, and is highly relatable. The characters are realistic and vivid, and whilst the romance is a little cliched and predictable (I predicted the outcome by the end of chapter one), I was happy with how it turned out.
Rating: 3.8 out of 5