Mission Hills book review


*update: spoilers removed from review*

Sex, drugs, alcohol and copious amounts of money. No, we aren’t talking about “The Wolf of Wall Street,” but instead Natalie Birzer’s new novel about the lives of three Johnson County cheerleaders who ride the ups and downs of opulence, titled “Mission Hills”– or, as I like to call it, “The Foxes of Nall Avenue.”

We are introduced to our protagonists: Madison, a shallow Jo-Co girl with daddy issues and more money than she knows what to do with; Ella, who rides Madison’s coattails and seeks the love of star Bluemont basketball player Marcus; and Lila, a cheerleader from Texas who has trouble fitting in with her new Kansas City life.

The plot revolves around the drama of high school, with love triangles, cheating, “frenemies” and parties galore. Friendships are put to the test as these girls try to climb the social ladder, and capture some boys in the process.

Let’s start with what I liked. The book seamlessly switches between the perspectives of the three characters, interpreting situations based on their character. For example, when Charlotte, Lila’s hot younger sister, successfully gets with Marcus, Lila views the situation with fear, Ella with jealousy, and Madison with sympathy for Ella.

Another thing I liked was the way that the book is structured. Each chapter isn’t really a chapter, but a different subplot, such as a section on homecoming, or a section on a certain boy. The story isn’t linear, and that makes the book more interesting to read.

The fun of the book comes from the changes in each girl as they are each exposed to a new friend or a new boy. However, it seems that instead of gaining maturity, Ella and Lila get a bit more immature with their habits, and Madison stays blind due to her family’s infinite wealth. This is a unique twist that I saw while reading “Mission Hills.”

While Birzer did a great job with the structure and flow of the story, there are some things I hope are changed for the sequel (Birzer indicated the possibility of a sequel in an interview).

The dialogue between the characters is often silly and had me raising an eyebrow at some of the quotes. They all speak somewhat formally, which sounds fine in text but not when talking to a friend at school or at their house. If you were to read a passage out loud, it might sound out of place.

Additionally, the incessant brand dropping can become a bit obnoxious. Lines such as “Madison pulled on her purple eyelet Marc Jacobs top, skinny J Brand jeans, and black Brian Atwood pumps and walked out to her black Porsche Carrera,” or “She…decided to wear her soft Vince black tank under her Rebecca Minkoff moto leather jacket, dark AG skinny jeans, and black Louboutin pumps,” are present way too much in the book and can be distracting.

In terms of the foundation, Birzer sometimes plays into the high school stereotypes, going as far as to say that cheerleaders are only there to pleasure boys on the basketball team. The   tone of the book makes it seem as if all girls are manipulative and that wealth is synonymous with disillusionment 

Birzer also plays into overused high school stereotypes, as demonstrated in her characterization of a boy named Timmy. Timmy “was Indian and in every dorky club possible–chess club, math club, science club, and even the paper airplane club. He was definitely a loser…” singling out race and activities as the defining factors of a student. While I understand that she is trying to say that Timmy wasn’t in the same social group as Ella, the exposition that Birzer includes can be a bit offensive.

Overall, I would recommend the book mainly to girls, especially those who enjoy series such as “Gossip Girl,” but I wouldn’t necessarily guarantee that they will love it. Laurence Perrine said in his English textbook that for commercial fiction to be successful with a reader, it needs 4 characteristics:

  1. A hero or heroine that the reader can sympathize with.
  2. A defined plot with high amounts of suspense.
  3. A happy ending that makes the reader optimistic about life.
  4. A general theme that holds conventional views of the world.

Unfortunately, this book doesn’t fulfill any of this criteria, except for number two most of the time. However, the book is in a category that empirically does well, and thus it will probably be met with success. “Mission Hills” is a reasonable first effort that shows potential for the future.