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'Literally' is a bouncy summer read built on a sleight-of-hand trick

YA author Lucy Keating delivers a light and fluffy fiction with citrusy twist of metafiction.

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Literally
By Lucy Keating
HarperCollins
256 pp.

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Annabelle Burns, star of Lucy Keating’s new young adult novel, Literally, has an ideal life. Perfect friends, perfect house, perfect family, perfect plan for her future. Yet four major developments threaten to overturn everything in a single Monday morning.

One: Her parents announce they’re getting a divorce. Annabelle is the last to find out; even her older brother’s best friend, Elliot, knows before she does.

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Two: Her parents are selling her beloved childhood home in Venice Beach, California. When Annabelle comes home from college next year, she’ll have two strange, memory-less houses to visit.

Three: The world’s hottest boy transfers to her high school and falls for her within 30 seconds. Hunky gentleman Will Hale is so well-suited for Annabelle that it’s like he was designed for her. They’re both overachievers, organizational experts, and all-around good kids. Their compatibility strikes Annabelle as almost eerie, but she decides not to look a gift boyfriend in the mouth.

Four: bestselling YA author Lucy Keating visits Annabelle’s school as a guest lecturer. Normally her books have tearjerker endings à la Nicholas Sparks, but she’s really trying for a happy ending with her next project. Keating describes it as a book about a very organized girl who lives in Venice Beach with her divorcing parents and older brother.

Sound familiar? Annabelle’s blood runs cold. Hearing her life story laid out as a plot arc, Annabelle tracks Keating down later.

She blurts out, “I don’t know how or why you are doing it, but I’d really appreciate if you’d stop writing about my life.”

Keating’s response is not what she expects:

“Annabelle, I’m not writing about you. I’m writing you,” Keating replies cheerfully. “You are in my book. You’re a character.… Some of my characters demand to be heard. Others just sit in a drawer, waiting for the right time.”

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At first Annabelle tries to dismiss Keating’s comment as just another spoonful of weird in the weirdest day of her life. But Keating’s interference soon becomes impossible to ignore.

Like her idol, Diane Sawyer, Annabelle gathers the facts. She questions her memories, her instincts, her choices – your standard teen existential crisis, really. She even finds herself looking at Elliot differently.

When even weirder things start to happen, she takes notice. The omnipotent authoress manipulates circumstances, changes facts, and throws obstacles in people’s way so events will proceed as she intends.

Decisive, Type-A Annabelle Burns won’t take this lying down. For the first time in her life, she decides to rebel.

As it turns out, authors don’t take kindly to their characters fighting back! What ensues is a battle for Annabelle’s soul. Will Keating dictate the terms of her character’s life, or will Annabelle take the reins of her future?

In “Literally,” the actual Lucy Keating constructs a tidy little sleight-of-hand trick. We’re pitched a light and fluffy fiction with the springy texture of '90s rom-coms like “She’s All That,” but she delivers it with a citrusy twist of metafiction.

Southern California, perfect life disrupted, love triangle: It’s practically a "Sweet Valley Twins" book. Annabelle Burns is an Elizabeth Wakefield who begins to wonder what it would be like to be a Jessica.

The trouble is, I always liked Elizabeth better than Jessica. Some of Annabelle’s most deeply-rooted habits (organization, planning, respect) are the ones she tries to shuck off first. If you’re going to stick it to The Man – and The Man happens to be an overconfident YA novelist – your teen years aren’t a bad time. I just hate to see signs of maturity jettisoned before everything else.

“Literally” will serve as a bubbly palate cleanser for some and skew saccharine for others. If you’re looking for YA with a similar concept but a little more edge, allow me to recommend the superbly sour “Enter Title Here” by Rahul Kanakia.

At times the “author within her own book” plot conceit reads as wishful thinking; I’ll admit to more than a few eye rolls with this one. But ultimately, it led to a fun guessing game about how this book actually came to be.

Expect to polish this one off in a weekend at most. “Literally” goes down easy as a bouncy little summer read.