Book Review: Frenemy of the People by Nora Olsen


Frenemy of the PeopleTitle: Frenemy of the People

Author: Nora Olsen

First Sentences: “We didn’t meet cute. That’s the Hollywood phrase for how a couple meets for the first time in a romantic comedy. You now the kind of thing. He’s walking out of the library with a pile of books; she’s walking in with a pile of books; they bump into each other and the books go everywhere. You know, cute. It wasn’t like that with me and Clarissa. We just always hated each other.”

Publisher:  May 13, 2014 Bold Strokes Books 264 pages

Rating: 3 out of 5 Desi for Homecoming Queen Pizza Specials

* This ARC provided by Bold Strokes Books via Netgalley*

Mini Review: Great in conception, just on the better side of okay in execution


I really wanted to love this book.

I did.

There are things I really like ABOUT this book, but I don’t love the actual book that much. Probably because the writing was a much lower reading level than I tend to enjoy in YA books. But while it wasn’t my cup of tea, it’s obviously important to have diverse books of all reading levels. Because– duh.

The Good

  • The concept is good. Clarissa is a goody-goody whose favorite thing is her horse Sassy, who realizes that she is bisexual and ends up falling for Lexie – a lesbian with blue hair who rages against the man and is vegan. I’d be upset that both Lexie and Clarissa are such stereotypes except I know about 15 people exactly like both of them. It’s the classic start out hating each other and end up in love story. But with queer people.
  • Clarissa is a real bisexual who isn’t a plot device and there are conversations like this:

    “I don’t trust bisexuals,” Lexie said. “If I was dating a bisexual, what would stop her from deciding to date a boy instead?”

    “I can’t believe you,” [Clarissa] said, “What’s to stop anyone from deciding to date someone else instead? Bisexual doesn’t mean sleeps around. It doesn’t mean you have to date a boy and a girl at the same time.”

    Biphobia is one of those bullshit things I just have absolutely no fucking time for. So I’m really pleased to see a bi character presented as a person who is not confused in any way.

  • Desi, Clarissa’s sister who has Down Syndrome. She’s also not used as a plot device, but as a real person who is a part of Clarissa’s life. This shouldn’t be rare or remarkable, but it is and so yay.
  • One of the subplots is Clarissa’s family’s struggle with their house going into foreclosure. With so  many teens living with this issue it seems odd to me that this is the first book I’ve read that really addresses it. It talks about the ninja loan Clarissa’s dad took out and how they got themselves in the situation of living in a house they absolutely can’t afford.
  • Little Things like Lexie reading “Ammonite” by Nicola Griffith and arguing with her teacher about the use of the word “man” to mean “human” which in light of all the #yesallwomen stuff going on seems particularly topical.

The Bad

  • Clarissa just sort of decides one day that she’s bisexual. Now I’m all for stories where the coming out is not the point. And I’m all for stories where coming out is not a long angsty drawn out process. But she just is literally like “…I think I’m bisexual. Yup. Bisexual. Cool.” And then starts announcing it to people without any kind of emotional processing. And even in the most straightforward of comings out there are feelings involved.
  • The writing. OMG y’all the writing. It’s just so simplistic. A prime example of someone who tells and doesn’t show. The dialogue is stilted and utterly without nuance. No one talks like that. No one. I recognize that 1st person narratives are tricky because they have to advance plot and describe what’s going on in the characters head when our real stream of thoughts are totally jumbled. But no one’s inner monologue goes, “it was so unfair and I was resentful and angry.” I mean… seriously. Nope.
  • Also Lexie and Clarissa say “I love you” after being together for approximately 11 seconds. Which might not bother me if it felt real, but the narrative was so stiff and unemotional I just rolled my eyes.

The Ugly

  • At one point, Lexie, Clarissa and Desi do something illegal. I had the following reaction:
    That could totally happen. Except-- no.
    That could totally happen. Except– no.

    It was just… I can’t even.


The writing is overly simplistic and a bit disconnected, but the diversity of the characters compensates, and the writing is good for teens with a lower reading level. I will highlight it as an example of a well constructed bisexual character and a disabled character who isn’t a plot device. I would recommend it to teens and order it for my library, but it’s not a title I’m going to gush about.

One thought on “Book Review: Frenemy of the People by Nora Olsen

  1. Agreed on all points. Yay for including more diverse characters without the book being Bisexual 101 or Downs 101. Boo for writing books on level with The Boxcar Children. My library has no budget, so I can’t order, but like you I would probably put it on my shelves and just not rave about it like I do about other books. 😀

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