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BOOK REVIEW: The Carrie Diaries (2010)

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 26, 2010

Published under the Title: A Tale of Two Carries

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

As a 30 something single ‘girl’ living in New York City, Carrie Bradshaw has arrived.

A strong, independent female who goes through several suitors, stands by her (3) loyal friends, pursues and gets pursued by one very elusive Mr. Big, Carrie cheerfully models Versace, Chanel & relationships and turns her (universally unacknowledged) insights into a successful news column.

That Carrie, we know well. She is a fictional character living the dream.

As a 17 year old high school student from Castlebury High still fantasizing about making it big!, she ruefully admits to having nothing figured out and secretly entertains hopes of writing a book that would change the world. The Carrie from the diaries is not yet fluent in ‘Manolo Blahnik’, though the fashionista in her can be seen trying to break free. ‘If it’s deliberate, its fashion’ she declares at one point as she rescues a treasured possession from certain death by painting it pink. She is also not the most surefooted person in the room when it comes to relationships. Neither Carrie has been lucky in this department.

It is the pre-NY Carrie who finds herself in the limelight this time.

This version comes with sisters - who don’t think being a Bradshaw is all that great and has yet to discover her ‘soul-mates’ aka Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha (the three best friends from the City). That she has actual roots comes as a surprise given how friends not family have been the centre of the wildly popular HBO series based on Candace Bushnell’s book of the same name.

This Carrie is an enigma.

She has great expectations - ‘I’m masquerading as a regular girl but inside me there’s a star waiting for someone to give me a chance’. Despite having a strong sense of direction, she is still a long way away from her dramatic makeover; this one is more of a Carrie-lite.

But she is not working alone. Carrie-lite can be seen wandering the corridors of high school with Maggie, the Mouse and Lali in tow. The prequel is set in the early 80’s. The exact year remains a mystery though readers come close to discovering it at least twice. Castlebury High is a place to relive or live 80’s hair, makeup and music with Carrie & Co. and watch them make rookie mistakes. Bradley, as she is called also puts a high premium on friendships. Their sisterhood will be tested on a more basic level as they set off relationship minefields.

Carrie-lite does not have all the answers. She does have flashes of insight. She knows, for instance that romantics get burned and worries about being one, shows good judgement but makes bad calls. There is a chapter titled ‘The Big Love’ but it is not about The Mr. Big, Carrie’s on again off again beau from the future. There is, however a ‘perfectly formed human with the amazing hair’ who catches her fancy and stands in for Big.

“…sometimes I think all the trouble in the world is caused by men. If there were no men, women would always be happy." Bradley is not bullet proof either. She has yet to break the guy code, and learns life lessons in between calculus and swim team. “These are supposed to be the best days of our lives,” she despairs. This high school may not have instant messaging but instant heartbreak has never gone out of style.

This is a character study – albeit, a tame one; strictly PG-13 considering the latter day adventures of Ms. Bradshaw. While older Carries on-screen escapades are more entertaining, younger Carrie as a fallible teen is more approachable. She does not have any special advantage over her peers. If she is exceptional it is because she has a mind of her own, is fiercely loyal and determined to chisel out a new identity from the traditional mould. She is still expected at NY by the end of the book but before that Carrie-lite must shed some of the insecurities and let go of a few illusions.

Sheer loyalty might bring discerning adults to the (Young Adult) YA section. Curiosity will make them stay. That Carrie is due for stardom soon is part of the appeal. Knowing the character makes it easier to stick with the story but the experience can be underwhelming. The final line is the only big payoff. Mature readers endure high school but long to get back on familiar turf. Fortunately for them, Candace Bushnell has signed a two book deal and they can bid farewell to Connecticut and get ready to welcome NY in the sequel.

Some things are inevitable with The Carrie Diaries - reading the entire book in Sarah Jessica Parker’s voice is one (SJP, of course plays Carrie Bradshaw on the show); contrasting the two Carries and trying desperately to locate the crisp banter is another.

Next up is Carrie Diaries 2 detailing Carrie Bradshaw’s first summer in New York. The Carrie Diaries is in stores now.

By Candace Bushnell
Balzer & Bray; Pp 400; Rs 750

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