BOOK REPORT for Screen Queens by Lori Goldstein

Cover Story: Cartoon Cutesy
BFF Charm: Mixed Bag
Swoonworthy Scale: 3
Talky Talk: 2 Fast, 2 Furious
Bonus Factors: Girls in Tech
Factor: Black Mirror
Relationship Status: Swipe Left

Cover Story: Cartoon Cutesy

I’ve noticed a huge trend in illustrated covers featuring animated main characters lately, and I’m not really mad at it. I definitely prefer them to stock photos, but I’m wondering if this trend will oversaturate the market and become passé sooner or later?

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The Deal:

Lucy, Maddie and Delia all have their own reasons for applying to the tech startup incubator program, ValleyStart. Lucy’s got big shoes to fill with a Sheryl Sandberg-esque mother and one last chance to secure her spot as a freshman at Stanford next year. Maddie’s already built a successful freelance design business but needs this particular line item on her resume. And Delia, a small-town gal and self-taught coder is hoping ValleyStart can get her the financial and professional boost she’ll need that her parents can’t offer her.

The three girls are assigned as teammates to build a competition app, but quickly realize that it’s a bit too coincidental that some of the only girls at ValleyStart have been put on a team together. Despite a rocky start, the girls learn they must stick together as they race to beat the clock—and their male competitors—in a competition that is not weighted in their favor. Winning could get them everything they’ve ever wanted, including a chance to work for Ryan Thompson, the Silicon Valley celeb who created Pulse, the most popular social networking app on the market. But at what cost?

BFF Charm: Mixed Bag

Lucy, Maddie and Delia were as different as they come. Delia was a quiet, shy coder from a small town. Maddie was an aloof East Coaster with a chip on her shoulder, while Lucy was a socialite tech-wannabe on speed. Truthfully, I didn’t care much for any of them! They all seemed really one-dimensional, especially Lucy, who reminded me of the worst sort of fast-talking, social-climbing, high-heel-wearing archetype that you’d see portrayed in bad 90s rom-coms, the type of girl who would sacrifice personal relationships to get ahead at her vague job working at a Cosmopolitan-type magazine. Lucy was even a writer for Teen Vogue! I softened toward her a little bit as the story progressed, but not enough to make me want to give her a BFF charm, unfortunately.

Meanwhile, I thought Maddie’s “I would rather be anywhere else” attitude got a little old. She was super protective of her little brother, Danny, and hated leaving him behind for the few weeks she was at ValleyStart, but no one was forcing her to be there! And Delia, while possibly the most likeable of the three, felt like the same small-town-girl-goes-to-the-big-city character I’ve seen a hundred times before.

Swoonworthy Scale: 2

Delia meets a cute coder named Eric Shaw as soon as she arrives at ValleyStart, and while their budding romance could have added a bit of swoon to the story, I never really felt any heat betwixt them. Plus, any swoon between Eric and Delia was cancelled out by Lucy’s anti-swoon. Lucy’s ex, Gavin, is also competing at ValleyStart and there were moments when I thought their enemistry could be sort of hot, but Gavin was such a gross tech bro that I found him more revolting than swoonworthy.

Talky Talk: 2 Fast, 2 Furious

This book was described as The Bold Type meets The Social Network and I don’t think that’s a bad comparison, necessarily. But there was something about the writing in Screen Queens that I couldn’t connect with. The story alternates between Lucy, Delia and Maddie, told in close third rather than first person. I kept stumbling over the prose and having to reread sentences, not really understanding the girls’ trains of thought or dialogue. Lucy, especially, seemed a bit all over the place, and I kept thinking, “Wait—what is she talking about? Where are they? What day is it?” Between the over the top Silicon Valley influence and the hard-to-follow prose, I had a really hard time connecting with this story.

Bonus Factor: Girls in Tech

My favorite parts of the book were the moments when Lucy, Delia and Maddie worked together creating their app, or had interactions with Nishi, their female tech mentor. I think we all know, objectively, that Silicon Valley needs more diversity, but reading about what women face in that industry was infuriating nonetheless. And I don’t just mean not being taken seriously as coders and designers—Lucy has a skin-crawly run-in with a guy who makes it very clear that she can succeed in tech if she sleeps her way to the top. Why are men?

Factor: Black Mirror

Pulse, the app for which the girls are competing for internships, takes your followers, likes, and general engagement from all your different accounts across the web and ranks you on a scale of 1 (Comatose) to 10 (Crushing It). Having a Pulse of 10 is like being the ultimate influencer—you get free stuff, access to the best clubs, and as Lucy seems to think, a first-class ticket to Stanford. I’m not sure if this was Goldstein’s intention or not, but Pulse felt like a horrific, nightmare-inducing episode of Black Mirror. It was so off-putting, I wanted to delete all my social media apps, and it made it a little difficult for me to care if the girls won their ValleyStart competition or not.

Relationship Status: Swipe Left

I’m sorry, Book. You seem great on paper, and looking at your online dating profile piqued my interest for sure. But once we got to know each other, I realized we weren’t a match made in eHarmony. I’m swiping left, but I know there are lots of other fish in that big cyber sea who will think you’re great!

Screen Queens is available now.