So, I’m embarrassed that I am a 23-year-old reviewing a Gossip Girl book. Sometimes, though, when things are stressful, I just have to read something totally mindless and shallow and this was exactly what I needed. These books are the ultimate guilty pleasure–frothy and silly and easy. I was a huge fan of this series back when I was fourteen or fifteen, and read most of the books back then, but this one came out after I’d moved on from the series.
It Had to Be You is a prequel to the series, taking place in the year before the events of the first Gossip Girl book. To the uninitiated, the premise of the series is that an anonymous, omnipresent person runs a blog narrating the goings-on of a group of spoiled, extremely wealthy New York teenagers. We’ve got Blair, the uptight Park Avenue princess, and her best friend, Serena, a gorgeous and flighty socialite-in-training, both of whom are in love with their childhood friend, Nate. There’s also Dan, a Brooklyn hipster with an unrequited crush on Serena (who doesn’t even know he exists), his younger sister Jenny, who is also obsessed with Serena (and obsessed with growing breasts), and Vanessa, a transplant from rural Vermont who falls head-over-heels for Dan. Got that?
There’s not much plot to these books–they’re more like tabloids, highlighting the crazy exploits, hook-ups, and fantasy lives of a select few. Gossip Girl herself serves as an excellent kind of one-woman Greek chorus, interjecting and commenting on the events she’s reporting in a snarky, oftentimes hilarious way. For a trashy teen book, the characters are surprisingly well-drawn for the most part; Blair and Serena especially transcend any stereotypes they might be associated with (less so in this book than in others, but it still generally holds true here).
I do want to comment on this book from the perspective of someone who has read the rest of the series already: in terms of being a satisfying prequel (in that it reveals new information or feels, in another way, like a worthwhile addition to the series), it falls a bit flat. I did like getting a bit more insight into Serena and Nate’s relationship, and that piece of this book helps explain and add depth to things that happen in later books, and I enjoyed seeing how Vanessa and Dan became friends (the backstory on Jenny’s boobs is also pretty funny). Other things, though, felt shoe-horned in, like Blair’s Audrey Hepburn obsession, or how Dan became a poet, were just sort of dropped into the story without any lead-up and just felt too obvious. It kind of annoyed me how all of these really significant character traits just happened to occur just a year before the series starts.
Anyway, this book was just okay, but I wasn’t expecting anything mind-blowing. It was a fun way to spend a few hours, and the nostalgia factor (bringing me back to high school when I was really into these books) was nice, too. If you’re new to the series, I’d just start out with the real first book, and if you’re an old fan, this is by no means essential for you to read–but you’ll probably like it if you do!