Book Review: Queen of Babble in the Big City

Lizzie Nichols is at it again in the sequel to Meg Cabot’s hilarious novel Queen of Babble, and this time she is in the Big Apple. A quick recap: Queen of Babble is about this young woman named Lizzie Nichols who loves to talk, but often gets in trouble for gossiping. She lives in England with her boyfriend Andrew, who is working as a waiter to pay his bills through grad school but then files for unemployment benefits after he gambles and loses all his money. Lizzie shouts aloud that Andrew is taking money away from people who, unlike him, have no job at all, and this gets him in trouble, so he asks her for money instead. Then Lizzie leaves him and goes on a train to France to spend time with her friend Shari and Shari’s boyfriend, Chaz. On the train she meets this handsome guy named Luke, who is on his way to France, too, and it turns out Shari and Chaz are staying at Luke’s estate so they can get ready for the wedding of Luke’s cousin Vicky. At first, Lizzie thinks Luke is in love with Lizzie, but then at the airport she runs into his girlfriend Dominique, and then gets her dreams crushed. Dominique ends up being very condescending towards Lizzie and even challenges her to fix Vicky’s wedding dress the night before her wedding. Lizzie takes up Dominique’s challenge and ends up making the dress perfect after staying up all night fixing it, and Vicky is happy with it. Luke ends up dumping Dominique and falling in love with Lizzie, and the two of them move to New York and live together in the apartment Luke’s mom bought him (oh, did I already mention Luke–and Chaz–both have hefty trust funds?)

Lizzie thinks it’s going to be a walk in the park. Who says a girl from Ann Arbor, Michigan, can’t brave the blistery winters, congested traffic and hustle of New York City? However, when she gets there, she realizes that although Luke’s rent is covered, Lizzie still needs a job so she doesn’t have to depend on Luke’s financial blessings to survive in the city. Also, she wants to find a job related to her college degree in fashion design, and Luke was immensely supportive of her dream, so he moved to New York so she could pursue her passion. However, she keeps getting rejected by several opportunities, and finally goes to a French couple who rejects her portfolio at first until she tells them she is willing to work for free. Because they cannot afford to lose out to the competition with Maurice, another wedding dress designer in the city, they have her work for them with no benefits, no paid time off, no pay whatsoever. The couple lets her work for them, but then Lizzie has to find an actual paying job so that she can do the free work for Monsieur and Madame Henri on the side. Chaz hooks her up with his dad’s law firm, and so she finds work as a receptionist there, making fast friends with Tiffany, who, like Lizzie, loves to gossip. While working at Monsieur and Madame Henri’s shop, Lizzie meets a young woman who is unhappy with the service Maurice gave her for her wedding dress (he said to store it in some kind of container, but then that material of the container ended up ruining the wedding dress). Lizzie uses her gregariousness and her empathetic nature to her advantage and tells the young woman how the dress can be fixed. The Henris still look down on her, but Lizzie is determined to show them what she’s worth so they can finally swallow their pride and pay her for her work.

Meanwhile, Lizzie is struggling with maintaining her friendship with Shari. Shari works for a nonprofit and is very busy nowadays, and when Lizzie tries to call her about why her (Shari) and Chaz aren’t on good terms anymore, Shari tells her she has to go and hangs up. Later, Lizzie finds out that Shari and Chaz broke up because Shari fell in love with one of her female coworkers, her boss Pat, and now lives with her. Shari is worried that her parents will disown her for being gay, but Lizzie continues to support her along the way, and Shari’s mother ends up being very supportive even though Shari’s dad doesn’t react very well to his daughter’s coming out.

However, Lizzie realizes that she is on thin ice at her paying job at the law firm when she meets Jill Higgins, a young woman married to a very rich bachelor in New York named John MacDowell whose family owns quite a lot of real estate in the city. Jill works at a job John’s family doesn’t see as attractive: working with seals in a zoo, and his family thinks that Jill is marrying John for his money, so they are having her sign a prenuptial agreement so that Jill won’t get any of John’s cash until they have kids together. Jill meets with the law firm so that she can have her rights protected when married to John. The press often pokes fun at Jill and call her names deriding her weight, but Lizzie has a soft spot for Jill, and so one day she goes into the bathroom to hear Jill crying. She gives Jill several treats from the break room in the office, and listens to Jill talk about how John’s mother-in-law hates Jill and thinks that she is just out for her son’s wealth. Lizzie tells Jill that she works with brides and that even though she is not a certified wedding specialist, she can restore any vintage or antique wedding gown and make something new of it. Jill soon develops trust in Lizzie and has her work on her wedding-gown, but then Roberta, Lizzie’s boss, finds out that a photo of Lizzie taking Jill to her car makes it in the paper and nearly fires Lizzie because she had to keep any matter with Jill’s wedding confidential and since Lizzie is a receptionist, she wasn’t, according to the rules, supposed to be talking to Jill at all. But honestly, if she hadn’t met Jill, Jill wouldn’t have had anyone to really call a friend because everyone just wanted something from her.

In the meantime, Lizzie must decide if she wants to keep living with Luke or leave him, because Shari tells her that she hasn’t been herself ever since living with Luke and that she should think twice before wanting to marry him. All Lizzie dreams about is marrying Luke even though they have literally only known each other for six months, but Luke doesn’t like commitment, so he’s not too keen on marrying her yet, even though he wants to still live with Lizzie.

This book really does talk about a lot of topics that are still relevant to today: working for free, marriage, commitment, friendship. This book has it all, and honestly, like the first, I kept thinking about Elle Woods from Legally Blonde. Elle Woods is this very kind-hearted optimistic young woman who doesn’t fit in when she attends Harvard Law School to see her boyfriend. But she also doesn’t give up on herself and studies hard even when her professor tells her that she isn’t going to get anywhere in law school simply because she dresses in pink and wears makeup. Elle also is very good about keeping friends because she knows how to keep a secret, even when Brooke, a lady who is on trial for allegedly murdering her husband, tells Elle that she only got her physically fit body not from exercise, but from getting liposuction. Like Elle, Lizzie doesn’t give up even when people tell her she won’t get far in anything, and I appreciate that about her character. Now of course, as an introvert who likes talking sometimes but who hasn’t been to many weddings, I couldn’t totally relate to Lizzie, but I love that she never gives up even when New York City becomes a day in day out struggle.

She also taught me the importance of knowing your self-worth. She lets the Henris take advantage of her hard work by saying she will work for free, thinking they will pay her one day. But when time passes and they don’t pay her anything (they are a family-owned business but are struggling financially themselves, even affording to pay their rent), she finally gets fed up and then when the Henris reveal to the press that Lizzie helped Jill with her wedding plans, getting Jill into further trouble and costing Lizzie her job at the firm, Lizzie finally marches in and demands they pay her a fair salary and benefits (she says “I want thirty thousand a year plus commissions. I want two weeks’ paid vacation, full medical and dental. I want at least one sick day per month plus two personal days per year. And I want the upstairs apartment, rent free, all utilities paid for by the shop.”, Cabot p. 287). When she said all this, of course I was snapping my fingers and practically shouting, “Get.it.GIRL!” But seriously, I understood that I, too, as a young woman in a creative field, need to know my worth. I need to work hard but also not feel like I have to always work for free, especially in a pricey place like New York City (or really anywhere, since in a lot of places in the U.S. things are just getting more and more expensive, namely housing).

It also taught me that weddings involve a lot of planning. Throughout the book, Lizzie includes several excellent guides for finding the right wedding gown for your body type, what to do after the wedding (e.g. writing thank-you notes to your guests, etc.), alternatives to throwing rice when the bride and groom leave in their “Just Married” car, and other really helpful things I had very little prior knowledge of. I hope when I get married (which I have no idea when) I can keep these guides in mind.

Once again, Meg Cabot continues to work magic with her excellent writing. The end (I won’t spoil it) had me seriously snapping my fingers and reeling back in shock, not from horror but from sheer fangirldom. Now I’m going to devour the third installment in the series! 🙂

Queen of Babble in the Big City. 2007 by Meg Cabot. 307 pp.

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