Smart, successful Ava Nickerson is closing in on thirty and has barely had a date since law school. When a family crisis brings her prodigal little sister Lauren back to Los Angeles, Lauren stumbles across a forgotten document - a contract their parents had jokingly drawn up years ago betrothing Ava to their friends' son.
Frustrated and embarrassed by Ava's constant lectures about financial responsibility (all because she's in a little debt. Okay, a lot of debt), Lauren decides to do some sisterly interfering of her own and tracks down her sister's childhood fiance. When she finds him, the highly inappropriate, twice-divorced, but incredibly charming Russell Markowitz is all too happy to reenter the Nickerson sisters' lives. And always-accountable Ava will soon realize just how binding a contract can be...
The title says it all. The Smart One and the Pretty One captures the rivalry and tension two young single sisters can share. Though the plot is a familiar one, I enjoyed the book very much. The pretty one, Lauren, is flighty and irresponsible and I wanted to shake her a number of times while Ava, the responsible lawyer sister, had my sympathy. The other characters are equally engaging and the Nickerson family draws you in to their lives. I found The Smart One and the Pretty One a fun satisfying read.
Publisher: 5 Spot (September 10, 2008), 305 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
About the Author, courtesy of the author's blog:
Claire LaZebnik grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, went to Harvard and moved to LA. She's written three novels: Same as It Never Was, Knitting under the Influence, and The Smart One and the Pretty One. With Lynn Koegel (who’s absolutely brilliant), she co-wrote Overcoming Autism: Finding the Answers, Strategies and Hope That Can Transform a Child’s Life and the upcoming (out in March) Growing up on the Spectrum: A guide to life, love and learning for young adults with autism and Asperger’s.
She now lives in the Pacific Palisades with my husband Rob (who writes for “The Simpsons”), my four kids (Max, Johnny, Annie and Will) and too many pets to keep track of.Reading Group Guide from Claire LaZebnik:
1. Do you think that siblings tend to define themselves in opposition to each other? Is this more true for girls or boys? Do you feel that this happened in your own family? Were you the smart one or the pretty one?
2. Lauren’s problems with money set off the whole plot. Have you ever bought things you couldn’t afford? Do you think Lauren will learn to control her spending in the future? Or are some people doomed to be lifelong spendthrifts?
3. This book has several very different depictions of mothers and their relationship with their sons and daughters. Which mother would you say yours is most like? Do you think Russell would have been as devastated if his mother was dying as Daniel is?
4. Both women make good arguments about their beauty choices, Lauren that it’s fun and worth it to make yourself look good and Ava that it’s a waste of time and only encourages people to focus on your exterior and not see through to who you really are. Which one do you agree with more? Why? How much time do you spend making yourself look nice on an average morning?
5. Do you think Lauren is just a one-night stand to Daniel? Is she right that he won’t remember her name? Lauren expresses a fairly casual attitude to sex early in the book (”You can sleep with a guy you don’t know that well-it’s one of the best ways of getting to know him.”), but then she seems pretty upset when she finds out Daniel has a girlfriend. Why do you think that is?
6. Russell and Lauren would seem on the surface to be a much better match than Russell and Ava. But he and Lauren are never actually interested in each other. Why do you think that is? On her part? On his? Do you think there’s truth to opposites attracting more than similar types?
7. Have you ever felt like the “extra bag of bagels”?
8. Contracts play a large role in this book. Ava believes that writing a contract is meaningful, even if it’s not a legal one-or at least she does until her sister confronts her with the betrothal document. Have you ever written a contract to change your behavior, like to diet or save money or work harder? Did it work?
9. Late in the book, Ava eavesdrops on her parents talking alone and realizes that they have an entire relationship that’s separate from anything the girls share with them. Do you think that’s true of parents in general? A well-known writer was recently criticized for saying publicly that she loved her husband more than her kids. What do you think most women would say about that?
10. Ava worries that Russell is trying to make her over, that he wants to change her and that must mean he doesn’t love her the way she is. Have you ever been in a relationship where you felt your significant other was trying to change you in some way? Have you ever tried to change the person you were with? How do you feel if someone gives you a gift that is more for the way he/she thinks you SHOULD be than the way you ARE?
11. After the book ends, do you think Ava will care more than she did before about clothes and make-up? How do you see the gifting and dressing up aspect of her relationship with Russell progressing? Do you think their relationship will last?12. Do you think brownies with ice cream and nuts provide all the essential nutrients and make a healthful dinner?
Thank you so much, Miriam and Hatchette Book Group for this opportunity!