Sometimes, a girl gets so blue and bummed, she just can’t bring herself to chat with the guard of her gated community or buy any more designer clothes. These are trying times for Apple, the lovesick protagonist of Rotten Apple, the latest from parenting memoirist and former National Post/Globe and Mail columnist Rebecca Eckler. The Grade 10 student at Cactus High, situated in an unnamed California locale, has always been The Sponge among her friends and family – the one who takes it all in, but never drools out a single, solitary emotion. But when her crush, Zen, returns from a term in Australia with a serious crush on – gasp! – her best friend, Apple loses that spongy cool. Posing as her mother, a popular TV psychologist, Apple gives the two lovebirds bogus dating advice in an effort to keep them apart. A little jealousy is a dangerous thing, of course, and soon Apple finds herself in deepest trouble – the kind that even a day at the spa can’t fix.
Eckler’s breezy teen drama may appeal to kids who live for Gossip Girl, Laguna Beach, and The Hills, or who crave a read that demands just as little mental exertion. But young readers who are concerned about matters beyond school dances and cute boys will find little to chew on here. The characters (who sulk, moan, and chatter through these pages) may have eccentric names – Brooklyn, Happy, Apple, Zen, Sailor, Bee Bee – but they don’t have the personalities to match. In Apple-world, people are either beautiful or unremarkable, and inner lives consist mainly of endless whining.
Eckler’s gossipy writing style – light on colour, heavy on chirpy dialogue – does little to illuminate the characters' privileged world as they bump along from one plot point to the next. Every once in a while, Apple looks up from her navel to consider her parents’ marriage (failing) and her own moral compass (broken). In the end, she thankfully chooses friendship and family over crushes. But OMG, after reading 200+ pages of her thoughts, you will wish that no one had ever squeezed The Sponge.