☆☆➹⁀☆ 3 stars☆➹⁀☆☆
What it’s about:
Twenty-four-year-old Jen Reid had her life in good shape: an okay job, a tiny-cute Seattle apartment, and a great boyfriend almost ready to get serious. In a flash it all came apart. Single, unemployed, and holding an eviction notice, who has time to remember trying out for a reality show? Then the call comes, and Jen sees her chance to start over—by spending her summer on national TV.
Luckily The Fishbowl is all about puzzles and games, the kind of thing Jen would love even if she wasn’t desperate. The cast checks all the boxes: cheerful, quirky Birdie speaks in hashtags; vicious Ariana knows just how to pout for the cameras; and corn-fed “J-dawg” plays the cartoon villain of the house. Then there’s Justin, the green-eyed law student who always seems a breath away from kissing her. Is their attraction real, or a trick to get him closer to the $250,000 grand prize? Romance or showmance, suddenly Jen has a lot more to lose than a summer.
This seems to be the summer of romantic comedies based on reality TV. America’s Next Reality Star by Laura Heffernan is a fun addition to offerings. I am not a fan of reality TV, but Ms. Heffernan’s latest novel enjoyably presents the details behind the participants and the manufactured drama.
The crazy cast of characters contains many unlikable fame seekers and several mousy wallflowers, all of whom give Jen and Justin a run for their money. There are a few standout secondary characters. Jen is a smart, witty, young woman who desperately needs the prize money to reduce her mounting bills. Justin is nearly as likable, but the handsome smart law student is left a bit of an enigma through much of the novel. Is he interested in Jen or just playing her to get points to stay on the show? I liked the characters, but I didn’t love them. Subsequently, I wasn’t overly invested in the outcome of the story.
The story is well paced, however, it does take quite a bit of time for the unseemly side of reality TV to be revealed (or at least discovered by the characters in the story). There were aspects of the setting/premise that didn’t work for me such as glass walls in the house used for taping the program. I did love the story layout that included contestant interview tapings that would be aired with the show. Of course, those were still just opportunities to make a play for votes. The end of the story contains some critical information that I would have preferred was shared with the reader earlier. If the information was known by the reader and left unknown to the main character, Jen, it would have made Jen much more empathetic. Not being a reality TV fan, I felt that I was doomed to not like the story. However, I did enjoy the read, but I didn’t love it. There was too much immature, fake drama. America’s Next Reality Star was chock full of everything I dislike about reality TV program. To some, that it will make it all the more delicious a read.
I would have enjoyed the story more had it mocked reality TV from the start. Additionally, while Jen’s exit was believable, Justin’s was not. Although meant to be a romantic HEA, it fell flat for me given the character’s backstory. American’s Next Reality Star is an easy read and a good palate cleanser between more intense books.