Review: The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding
We walk outside to the parking lot. Sunshine and blue skies. Again. I open my mouth to let her know about the name mistake, except that I really like the thought of being Devan Malcolm. And if I tell her, she’ll call up New City, get it fixed, and I’ll have to go back to being Devan Mitchell. And suddenly she’s the last person I want to be.
When just the right book comes along at just the right time, it's a real treat. Such is the case of Amy Spalding's debut, The Reece Malcolm List, which ticked so very many of my want-to-read boxes.
Devan Mitchell finds herself suddenly thrust into an unfamiliar world when she's shipped to Los Angeles from a small town near St. Louis to live with the mother she never knew following the death of her father. Devan knew very little about her mother, aside from that she's a best-selling novelist who seemingly never had an interest in a relationship with her daughter.
When she arrives in L.A., Devan's world transforms. Always an accomplished singing and hardcore musical theater fan, she's enrolled in a private performing arts high school where rather than being the weird musical girl, she's kind of, well, normal.
Devan chronicles the little bits of information she learns about her unusual mother in a notebook, while navigating her new, vibrant world. There's a bit of romance and a lot of unusual and realistic family issues explored in this memorable debut with a knock-out authentic teen voice. The result is a gem of a book that equally tugged at my heartstrings and put a grin on my face with its wit.
If I were to make a Devan-style list about The Reece Malcolm List, my review would look something like this...
Things I Love About The Reece Malcolm List
1) L.A. is a lively and fun setting for a young adult novel. The experiences of young people in a city like that are absolutely fascinating.
2) Family dynamics are complicated--but not what you'd expect. Devan's mother, The Reece Malcolm, has a charming boyfriend, Brad, who's a great guy who loves to cook and so different from most parental boyfriends or step-parents in YA. Devan's developing of a relationship with a mother she never knew--and whom she may be more like than she imagined--is touching and real.
We get our usuals, enchiladas for her and the chile relleno for me, both orders to be split in half and shared. I still can’t predict what she’ll say or do, but it’s nice we’ve gotten into this routine with food. Maybe it’s silly that it makes me feel more connected with her, but in this tiny way it does.
3) While Devan is a bit dense when it comes to understanding issues related to her family, she's pretty smart about what she wants when it comes to boys. There are two boys in this story, but she doesn't flip back and forth between the two.
4) Devan develops relationships with interesting adults. These adults play important roles related to plot and character develop--they don't just exist to teach Devan Very Important Lessons.
5) Like a lot of kids who are into things, at her former traditional high school, Devan was a bit of a strange ranger; the performing arts school is different, where being excited about performance is expected. While reading Reece, I kept thinking how wonderful it was "watching" Devan find "her people."
6) Realistic friendships make The Reece Malcolm List shine. They get mad and jealous and are a bit contradictory--just like real friendships.
7) There are boys with good hair. This is important--I shouldn't have to explain why.
Of course, I’ve never stood near the cutest guy on the planet pre-audition before. “Hey!” He jumps up from his chair as I walk into the music department waiting room at New City School. His hair is nearly black and kind of swooped forward, some- where between really preppy and a little punk. It is Very Serious Hair. I think about how it would feel to run my fingers through it. (Good, obviously.)
8) Devan's teenage voice is authentic without being dumbed-down. She's clever and witty, but not in a talky Dawson's Creek way. For example, her commentary on show choir,
I actually think it’s kind of a little pretty cheesy. People say the same thing about musical theatre, but I don’t think that’s true at all. It’s one thing to burst into song in character because there’s such an overflow of emotion it can’t be contained. It’s another entirely to randomly sing and dance, apropos of nothing. I mean, I love it, but I can’t deny its cheesiness. (Musical theatre, on the other hand, I’ll defend to its—and my—death.) Still, show choir is a small group of talented people, and you occasionally even get to sing songs from this century. It’s the best of all of them.
I know Amy has a comedy background and it shows in her writing, but it's not in a, "Now we will be FUNNY!" sort of way. It's imbued within Devan's character and her new surroundings and experiences.
9) I am an idiot when it comes to musical theater (yes, you may all gasp in horror now), but Devan's enthusiasm for it bubbles of the page in such an infectious way that it made me love musical theater for 352 pages.
10) Dialogue. Dialogue. Dialogue. I love dialogue that I can hear--and I sure could in The Reece Malcolm List.
“What’s your favorite—” She cuts herself off. “I was about to ask what your favorite thing about L.A. was so far, but I should probably ask if you can even stand it enough to have a favorite thing.”
“Is it dumb if I say the weather? It’s totally a cliché, right?”
“It’s a cliché for a reason,” she says. “It’s generally glorious here. I won’t deduct points for lack of originality.”
“What’s your favorite thing about L.A.?” Right now feels like a safe time to ask.
“Oh, God, don’t repeat it, but probably that most of the people I care about are here.” She raises an eyebrow at me. “But I’d hate to lose my rep of not giving a shit.”
“So the weather?”
“Right,” she says with a smile. “The weather.”
FNL Character Rating: I had to bring Laura in for a consult on this one, and after a long discussion via text message that because of the touching exploration of family and friendships that it's worthy of a Becky Sproles when Becky realizes who her real family is near the end of season five rating. Though I lobbied hard for a one-of-a-kind, "the perfect effortless wave of Tami Taylor's hair" FNL Character Rating.
Read our interview with Amy from 2012 in which she discusses the unique process involved in developing the cover for Reece.
Disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher. Also, I chat with Amy on Twitter about Very Important Topics like Luke Cafferty's guest role on Parenthood.