The A-List by Zoey Dean | Rating: ★★★★★
Just a little over ten years ago, when readers where left in wait for the next installment of Gossip Girl they searched high and low for something equally as juicy to read in their spare time. Fortunately for them, Little Brown already had a selection in the Zoey Dean penned series called The A-List. Many readers flocked to this because of the similarities between the series and Gossip Girl – filthy rich teenagers acting like adults and the familiar light and soapy settings that makes reading quick and entertaining.
It is, or perhaps was, the most popular series in similar genres. There was a time when I was incredibly attached to this gem of a series and for many, this is going to serve as an ultimate throwback.
Where Gossip Girl focuses on the lifestyles of uber rich and wild Upper East Side teenagers, The A-List focuses on similar social settings on a different coast. GG is a take on New York’s youth, The A-list is California youths callback: adventures of beautiful, young and rich teenagers who try so hard to be adults tied together with a bit more beach setting promises all the dirty details that became many readers guilty pleasure through Gossip Girl and maybe more.
During this time, you'd almost never hear one series without the other amongst readers – where Gossip Girl went, The A-List went. Fans of Beverly Hills 90210 were drawn to the similarities between these books and the much-beloved teenage drama, given the setting and similar plot. So I don't really need to say: The A-List is a wild ride with soap opera plots, incredibly hilarious moments, glamor and is frankly a blast to read.
It’s no secret that The A-List takes a bit more polished approach and has a cast of far more developed characters. Zoey Dean’s writing is more detailed and thoroughly better than Cecily von Ziegesar’s, although both are still entertaining and serve up a purpose of their own. If Gossip Girl wasn't for you, The A-List is probably the better option for those who are picky when reading fluffy tales.
Readers often say that, though both are beloved equally, The A-List is a smarter read and a little more mature and realistic than Gossip Girl, thus earning a bit more love from reviewers and fans alike. While I love both, I would always choose Gossip Girl over The A-List, it’s still a series that I will probably always be attached to. Comparisons aside, both series and authors are wonderful in their own ways.
The A-List has an opening that isn’t easy to forget. We get an idea of what one of our leading ladies, Anna Percy, is leaving behind as she decides to move in with her father for a change of scenery and a whole lot of hopes to reinvent herself. This narration shows us the why and how when it comes down to Anna’s choice of best friend and frankly, all these years later it still makes me laugh.
Anna is far more conservative when compared to her best friend Cyn. Not that she wants to be. She admires the ballsy attitude her dear friend has that makes her ooze sex appeal and shine in a sea of other prep school girls. Cyn is fearless, Anna is cautious and lives by the rules that her mother – an uptight society woman – drilled into her mind years ago. It’s no wonder she longs for a change and luckily for her, she is able to dip her toes into the wild side as she leaves New York for California.
It’s not that Anna has never dated, it’s that the longtime object of Anna’s affections (though he doesn’t know this and she is far too shy to show it) is currently dating her best friend. Surprisingly, she isn’t all that bitter about it. Disappointed, sure. But at this point in time, in spite of how sigh worthy it is, Anna isn’t holding this against her best friend. And on her flight to California, we are introduced to a handsome young man named Ben.
Ben is a Princeton man. Ben is, as you soon see, very well liked by the ladies. He's the golden boy of his group of friends. Anna is attracted to him and after he ‘saves’ her from an uncomfortable seat mate, sparks fly and Anna steps into the shoes of someone unlike herself. Random hookups have never been her thing – but she certainly channels her inner Cyn as they fly. This is mostly due to the alcohol and spice up her life, and boy does she succeed in doing so.
Soon, in her new home, she finds herself entangled in the lives of 90210s elite. Anna and Ben have a connection that seems unshakeable, even if they don’t really know one another, and lust sparks at every turn. Anna’s life suddenly turns into something she’d never actually expected to accomplish in such a short amount of time – her appearance stirs up a lot of drama as Ben takes her as his date to a very famous wedding.
Sam Sharpe’s fathers wedding, to be exact. Everyone knows Mr. Sharpe – he is one of the most popular actors in this fictional setting. And Sam, a self conscious teenage girl, finds herself displeased by more than her fathers young bride. Sam is typical and still remains likeable. Although she’s grown up in a setting different from many of the books audience, she seems to be the one most can find themselves in.
Ms. Sharpe has been making heart eyes at Ben for many years and hopes to finally breakthrough the so-called friend zone at this wedding, in spite of Ben having previously had a relationship with one of her best friends, Cammie. And our poor girl is thrown off suddenly when Ben brings Anna, beautiful and mysterious Anna Percy, as his date.
Sam’s welcome is a little warmer than Cammie’s when it comes to Anna, but not by much. She’s very threatened by this new girl and it’s obvious. Even so, she takes an almost-sugary-sweet approach in befriending the new girl. And even worse for her, she finds herself actually not hating Anna like she should.
But where Sam is nice to Anna, Cammie is horrendous.
At first glance Cammie Sheppard appears to be the stereotypical sex-kitten-mean-rich-girl who allows jealousy and angry control her. Poor Anna is subjected to Cammie’s claws on more than one occasion in this book, as ‘revenge’ for ‘stealing Ben away from her’, even if it’s obvious that Ben and Cammie’s relationship was more physical than anything for Ben. She comes across as a villain and unlikeable for the most part, until…
We see her vulnerable side. We see why she is the way she is. And while it doesn’t yet make up for her actions, it makes her all the more endearing to me. Cammie has the potential to grow as a character through the series and during one of her chapters, as she visits her mothers grave, there is something oddly small about the girl that makes you want to wrap her up in a blanket and give her a hug.
Except if you tried that she’s probably claw your eyes out. Which is fine. It’s probably what makes me love her. She's far from one dimensional and although her behavior is often inexcusable, she still is incredibly entertaining. Cammie is certainly the most complex and developed character in this book and will draw you into this world.
And then there’s Dee – Sam and Cammie’s best friend that completes the trio. Dee is very high spirited and a bit all over the place. She’s a firm believer in spirituality and reminds me of a little girl trapped in a teenagers body. There’s something very concerning about her and what seems to be a bit more than a few levels of mental illness. Much like her best friends, Dee is very into Ben and views Anna as a somewhat threat to her chances.
Dee’s major bombshells come in a duo: she claims to have had sex with Ben during a visit to Princeton. And even worse, she believes she is pregnant with his child.
Because of her spirituality, Dee believes that she and Ben are fate. There’s a certain level of delusion here that makes you want to help Dee that I can’t describe unless you read her narrations. And because of this, she’s a sympathetic character and you can’t help but to worry about her.
Lastly, we have a few minor characters thrown into the mix. Parker, Adam and Monty are the most prominent ones and we don’t really get to know any of them except for Adam. Adam is sweet and very much so the standup, sweet guy in the series who borders on boring.
Romance is at a high and makes for several dramatic occurrences and hookups that will leave readers high and dry. Teenage angst is plenty in this first installment to an intriguing series, see: a character nearly losing their virginity and then being ditched for mysterious reasons.
We see the potential for broken hearts, steamy will-they-or-won’t-they romances and budding friendships and enemies formed. If you couldn’t tell, The A-List is juicy, fashionable, snarky and the absolute perfect beach read for any age. It’s sets the stage for a perfectly entertaining and glamorous series, leaving us begging for more by the final pages.
The A-List is young adult and chick lit at its finest and has aged incredibly well.