Super Series Saturday: The Ruby Oliver books by E. Lockhart

Saturday, May 05, 2012

These books. From the second I picked up my first Ruby Oliver book, I was hooked. Hooked as in, I would be sitting in the bathroom reading to the next page break and then the book was over. Why? I'll tell you.

#1: The Boyfriend List: 15 guys, 11 shrink appointments, 4 ceramic frogs and me, Ruby Oliver.

Ruby's life has gotten extremely complicated. Here's what happened: First, her boyfriend, Jackson, broke up with her. Then, Ruby's best friend, Kim, got together with him. Ruby is supposed to be okay with this, because they wrote a bunch of rules together about how you are never supposed to get with a guy your friend likes -- unless it is true love. Which is what Kim says it is. But Ruby still likes Jackson, and he appears to have at least some residual feelings as well. Ruby starts having panic attacks from the stress of the situation, so she gets a shrink who suggests she make a list of every guy she's ever had any kind of romantic anything with so she can sort through her complicated emotions. Naturally, someone gets hold of this list, distributes it around the school, and Ruby's life is effectively over.

First off, let me tell you why I fell in love with these books right away.

1. Ruby puts footnotes on everything. Sometimes these footnotes lead to lists of movies. Sometimes they lead to anecdotes about something that happened a long time ago. Sometimes they are explanations of slang she uses. Always, they are hilarious.

2. Ruby herself is so awesome and relatable. I seriously wish she went to high school with me so we could be best friends. I love that she has notebooks with her friends, that she wears vintage clothing, that she eats food and is a normal size, and most of all -- that her weirdness (her actress mother, plant-obsessed father, houseboat, private school life) makes her not normal per se, but relatable. Because we all have some form of uber-weirdness in our lives (Mine was the fact that my family owned llamas that would get into screaming fights, that we usually ate something my dad had hunted down for dinner (think elk, bear, buffalo, fish), and that I would get stuck behind tractors on the way to school making me late).

I also really loved reading about how Ruby handles the situations she is thrown in. Losing your best friend (and other friends, I might add), and your boyfriend, and having the entire school think that you are a mega-skank is a lot to deal with. And while Ruby isn't graceful under pressure (she has severe panic attacks), she doesn't mope around and feel sorry for herself. She grows through the experience, and she gets through it.

My last little insight into this book is that I think Kim, Ruby's former best friend, is one of the most loathsome characters I've read about in contemporary fiction. Obviously she is nothing compared to mega-villains, but as far as the everyday garden variety of nasty people goes, she is pretty despicable. *shudder*

#2: The Boy Book: A study of habits and behaviors, plus techniques for taming them

In The Boy Book, Ruby is still dealing with the fallout from all the drama with Jackson and Kim. However, as she continues to meet with her therapist, Dr. Z, she starts to find new ways to adjust to her life both inside and outside the Tate (her private school) universe. She tries to find new friends, find ways to occupy her newly way-too-open time, and of course, tries to understand the complicated habits of boys.

The Boy Book is kind of a continuation from The Boyfriend List. Kim is in Tokyo doing a foreign exchange (but still with Jackson, despite the distance). Ruby is feeling awkward whenever she encounters Jackson, but can't stop fixating on him. However, other boys are also starting to pique her interest, or at least show up in her life uninvited. There's Hutch, the social outcast who has started working with Ruby's dad, who despite his social leprosy, can be fun to talk to. There's Noel, Ruby's always-sort-of-friend, who lately has been looking appealing (but, unfortunately, not only to Ruby). There's Gideon, Ruby's friend Nora's older brother -- and Nora may actually still be friends with Ruby despite the drama of the previous months. Everything comes to a head during a school event where everyone does a communion-with-nature type of thing, and all the people Ruby needs to avoid happen to be in the same place as she is.

I like The Boy Book, but I don't have much extra to say about it -- like I said, it is mostly a continuation fo the drama Roo experienced in The Boyfriend List, except now we are dealing with fall out. It was still unputdownable, of course.

#3: The Treasure Map of Boys: Noel, Hutch, Jackson, Finn, Gideon -- and me, Ruby Oliver

In The Treasure Map of Boys, Ruby's life is more stable. She's learned more of less to deal with her status as a leper. She has some friends, even if they aren't quite as close as she was with Kim. She even has a love interest (but is desperately trying to avoid him because one of her friends is interested in him). Things get complicated when a senior girl asks Ruby to head up a fundraiser bake sale. Ruby is determined to turn the bake sale traditions on its head by having boys provide the goods, but everything winds up haywire (of course. It's Ruby Oliver).

This was my favorite of the Ruby Oliver books. This was the holy grail. The series probably could have ended here and I would have been happy. Not that the fourth book wasn't good -- it was -- but The Treasure Map of Boys was fantastic. I shall tell you why.

First, let me explain what is meant by the phrase "treasure map of boys." Ruby's therapist, Dr. Z, requests that Ruby make a treasure map of relationships in her life. Being obsessed with boys, Ruby interprets that to mean the romantic relationships in her life, and she struggles with delineating what all the different boys she encounters mean to her. However, in the process, she realizes that while there are certain things she wants, certain things she misses, she is missing the wonderful parts of her life that are right in front of her by longing for things that she no longer has. I think Ruby experiences genuine growth in this book.

There are also some heart-pounding moments of legitimate romance. In the earlier novels, there is complication, yes. There is analysis, yes. But nothing good actually happens. In The Treasure Map of Boys, Ruby actually has some encounters. And they are lovely.

Honestly, I think you could stop here and still be happy. But of course, you will want more Ruby Oliver like I did, which leads to...

#4: Real Live Boyfriends: Yes, boyfriends, plural. If my life weren't complicated, I wouldn't be Ruby Oliver.

Roo has Opinions on what it takes to be a Real, Live Boyfriend (as opposed to just a boyfriend). And she is lucky, because she has one. Yes, things have finally started to go well, despite the drama that is inherent in her life. Until things stop going well. Aka, her Real, Live Boyfriend mutates into a pod-robot (Jackson-style) with no apparent reason. He doesn't even break up with Ruby -- just wanders around, pod-robot style, not calling her back. Which, naturally, causes Ruby to freak out.

After finishing this final book, I was a little disappointed in Ruby. She had had this great, powerful growth experience in The Treasure Map of Boys, but once things start going south with her Real, Live Boyfriend, she reverts back into over-analyze-but-not-communicating mode. She does attempt to ask Real, Live Boyfriend what is wrong, but she doesn't try very hard. Instead she is pursued a bit by some of the other boys on the treasure map of boys. And while eventually things get figured out, I was feeling rather disgruntled with her immaturity.

But thinking about it right now, I've realized that many, many times after having an epic learning experience, I have reverted back to stupidity. It is almost as if you have to have one final stupid moment after you learn your lesson to drive the point home. Sure, Ruby learned a lot, but she still wasn't perfect. She still had to deal with a difficult situation, and just because she'd had a large epiphany before that situation, it didn't meant that she was capable of handling it perfectly. So I am slightly less disgruntled than before, having realized that.

I think my favorite thing about Real Live Boyfriends was the documentary that Ruby was making on the nature of love. She walked around asking her friends what love meant to them, and one answer, given by her at times clueless but totally sweet friend Meghan, was that love was having a delicious piece of cake, and really wanting it, but giving the last bite to the person you love because you want them to have it. It sounds silly, but I have totally been using this in my life. For example (this is going to be the longest and most random aside ever, but because I am writing about Ruby Oliver, who does the same thing, I feel totally justified) my husband and I buy regular milk and soy milk. Neither of us are lactose intolerant or anything -- we just like soy milk. And my husband feels like it is better for his colon because he has been watching documentaries lately. We can't afford to only buy soy milk because it is more expensive than regular milk (plus, we have nothing against regular milk -- we just like soy milk) Not that you want to hear about his colon. Anyway, we both like the soy milk a lot because it is sweeter than regular milk. Tonight, I really wanted a glass of milk and went for the soy but when I picked up the carton I realized that it was almost empty. My husband is at work, so I could easily have had it and said, "Oh sorry, I didn't know you wanted it." But instead, I put it back in the fridge and drank the regular milk, because I really love him and know he'll be happy to have the soy when he gets home. That is what I've learned from the Ruby Oliver books. (Applause).

Anyway, if you are still reading at this point, you must really love either the Ruby Oliver books or me. In closing, these books were fun and mostly frivolous, but with a few quality lessons tucked in. I wish Ruby Oliver was real so we could be friends (I would totally forgive your social leprosy, girl), and so I could borrow her white fishnets on the cover of the last book. In addition, E. Lockhart is a fabulous writer. So go read them!


  1. I love this series. I actually loved it as a three book series and was surprised when the fourth book came out. When I read the last book, I felt the same as you--why is she acting so immature?! It was good in the end. I'm glad somebody aside from me has heard of and enjoyed these books! Great reviews!

    1. Thanks! They are so fun. I am glad that I'm not the only one that was a little disappointed with Ruby in the fourth book but like you I think she finally shaped up a little.

  2. Well, since you and Hannah (from so obsessed) have both blogged about these books this week and raved about them, I feel I MUST add them to my TBR pile :)

    1. Do it! They are very fun and frivolous in the best possible way but at the same time have some real meat to them.

  3. These sound really fun. I just checked and the kindle books (the first two, can't find the others on kindle) are a good price. I may just treat myself and download them. And I love your story about the soy milk. That's sweet.

    1. DO it! You won't regret it. :) And thanks :)

  4. I've only read the first book in this series so far but I loved it and fully intend to read the rest. Ruby rocks!

    1. With maybe the exception of the last book, they just keep getting better. Hope you enjoy the rest!

  5. Girl, you know I love this review! And it makes me so happy that you liked these books, too. I was tearing through them in the same way you were - I just couldn't put them down! Your story about the soy milk was sweet, and that was one of my favorite quotes from that book. I just got The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks from the library because I was dying for more by E. Lockhart. I think I saw it on your IMM, too, so I'm excited to compare thoughts :)

    1. I just read that one as well! It is really different from the Ruby Oliver books but the writing and unputdownability are similar. I didn't love it quite as much as l loved the Ruby books but it was good. I'm excited to see what you think!

  6. I cannot even tell you how ridiculously happy this makes me. Like, for serious. I have been meaning to read these books for AGES.

    Since 2010 when I read The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks and realized that this woman was completely made of awesome and brilliance. (Have you read that book? B/c if not, you SERIOUSLY need to get on that. One of the absolute BEST books I have ever read and SO funny and witty and clever and SMART. WIN).

    ANYWAY. This post makes me happy. And now I need to find a way to read these books, like... for realz.

    1. You NEED to read these! And I have read the Disreputable History -- it is pretty fantastic. I am reviewing it in a couple of weeks, I think. E. Lockhart is hilarious and I definitely want to read all of her books. Kristi a few comments up mentioned that the first two are really cheap on Kindle right now. I don't know if you have an ereader or if they still are, but that might be something to check!


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