If you don’t get the cover or the title, then this book probably isn’t something you’ll understand completely and many of the not-so-subtle jokes will be so lost on you. Elizabeth Eulberg’s debut young adult novel The Lonely Hearts Club will no doubt leave young Beatles fans with something to swoon over.
Penny Lane Bloom — yes, that’s her real name — has been close to Nate her entire life. They grew up close and finally, the summer before her junior year of high school when her parents are out of the house, she’s ready to have the sex with him he’s been subtly pressuring her into for a while. But when she sneaks downstairs, he’s there with another girl.
Penny Lane isn’t happy and she isn’t going to take it. She decides she’s going to begin her own club, just her and herself, called (you guessed it) The Lonely Hearts Club. The rules? No more dating for the rest of high school.
When school begins just days later, she begins noticing a change in her former-but-no-longer friend Diane, who’d always been attached to Ryan, her boyfriend since 7th grade. Diane suddenly wants to be friends with Penny Lane again, and it isn’t long before Penny Lane decides to give this a shot … if for no other reason than to get the dirt on why Ryan and Diane broke up after all of those seemingly happy years together.
It’s then that Penny Lane confesses about her club, and Diane asks to join. Of course, it doesn’t take long for a slew of other girls, fed up with the boys in their small school, to take part in this club, either. The club’s mission is to establish camaraderie among the girls and to feel empowered. They spend their Saturday nights together, and they gain strength from one another to do things outside their comfort zone — Diane, for example, quits the cheerleading squad, which has always been “her thing,” and chooses to try out for the basketball team.
But when Ryan begins to make his feelings clear toward Penny Lane, what will become of the Lonely Hearts Club?
The Lonely Hearts Club was a very cute read, with an interesting, albeit conflated and confusing, pro-feminist flavor to it. It recently had its rights picked up as a film. I liked Eulberg’s writing style a lot, as it made the book fly for me. Penny Lane was a fun character who, I think, was a realistic portrayal of a girl caught between wanting to swear off the male population completely and wanting to find a good guy to date. I think that this will indeed make a great movie, as the writing style Eulberg has is just conducive to that. The Beatles references throughout made a nice motif, as well, and where it could have gone overboard quite easily, I think there was enough going on elsewhere to not make it overkill. This is a nice stand alone book that will be one many girls can relate to.
I had a lot of issues with the book, too. First and foremost, the pacing did not work. Penny Lane begins her club when her junior year begins, but it takes only a couple of weeks before there are hordes of girls begging to be a part of this. Her friendship with Diane is cemented way too quickly, and the book wrapped up by the end of the first semester, with the group that was all about feminism and swearing off guys deciding its okay, actually, to date guys. It happened too quickly to be anywhere near realistic and too quickly to be authentic. Oh, and her parents, while they were supportive, were also clueless, flat, and went along with anything she did.
There were a number of subplots that happened, too, that were impacted by this pacing. There was a member of the club, her name being Kat or Kate (the ancillary characters in this title are all the same, so I can’t remember her name) develops an eating disorder that’s quickly mentioned. By the end of one month’s time, she’s suddenly healed. No one seems to care, either, about the issue at all, other than the two times it’s mentioned very casually. Can I remind you that I just read Hungry and myself, along with the entirety of teendom, also read Wintergirls and know this isn’t in any way realistic? It seemed like there was a huge missed opportunity here or it seemed like the author felt or was told she needed to have an “issue” thrown in. I’m not sure, but it really bothered me and I wish those six sentences (that may be a liberal estimate) could have been edited out.
Likewise, the principal character decided he didn’t like the club and rather than discuss this with Penny Lane alone, he calls her parents in for a conference about her behavior. He also decides to ruin a fundraiser that the club spearheaded to raise money for the basketball team (wait, isn’t it the case that sports are already funded well at high schools and yet no one had a problem with this at all?) but he himself kept a secret organization that asked the students what they wanted out of their school because his student council wasn’t good enough. Ryan was a part of this secret club, but we never hear more about it — I was expecting that the principal’s dislike for the club and his interest in input from students like Ryan would have something to do with my next issue of the blatant disrespect of the males in school. Weird. Just weird.
Okay, now my big beef: feminism is not about hating boys. Throughout the very quick book and way-too-quick school semester, Penny Lane and all of her friends in the Club have a misconception about feminism. They believe that it is all about hating boys. Not just that, but they believe all boys are out to get them and are jerks, tools, slobs, and cheats. They’re flat our disrespectful. Although by the end they have a bit of a change of heart, I think this message could be dangerous. To be quite honest, it felt to me like The Lonely Hearts Club was trying to be the antithesis of Twilight — whereas Bella becomes a tool for a boy, these girls just went to bat believing ALL boys were going to treat them as tools and thus, they should swear them off and treat them like dirt. I cannot believe Ryan let these girls treat him the way they did when we as readers were not given any reason why he should be treated poorly. In fact, there’s an excellent scene in the book (perhaps my favorite), where Diane begins to talk about her and Ryan’s decision not to have sex during their lengthy relationship. I felt like Ryan was actually a stand-up guy for the decision!
I know that the girls figure it out in the end that not all boys are jerks, but it takes a very long time (250 pages) to get to this conclusion. This isn’t feminism; this is man-hating. This isn’t empowerment we should be teaching girls; this is blatant hatred and mistrust.
But for all of my gripes, I’ll say this would be a fantastic book club choice for an all-girls book club. There is a lot to discuss in this title, particularly when it comes to things like relationships, feminism, empowerment, and blazing one’s own path in life. This book actually reminded me quite a bit of Boys, Girls, and Other Hazardous Materials in terms of lessons learned. I am curious to see how this one plays out on the big screen. Since Eulberg’s worked on Stephenie Meyer’s saga, I’m curious what sorts of parallels we may see happening.
I look forward, too, to seeing where Eulberg may go with a next novel, and I really hope things like the awkward pacing, flat secondary characters, problem-introducing-and-rapid-resolution-with-no-sympathy-from-the-main-characters, and other issues don’t hurt the movie. This is a book that will definitely have appeal to teens, but those of us a little removed from that (and I’ll be honest to say I’m not THAT much removed from then!) may be disappointed. Other bloggers, including The Compulsive Reader and Becky at Becky’s Book Reviews have absolutely loved this one.
The Lonely Hearts Club hits stores December 29. Keep your eyes on our site over the next couple of weeks. You’re going to see this book mentioned another time or two!
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).