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Summer Read: I Love You, Beth Cooper

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Beth Cooper
Larry Doyle's novel

Larry Doyle's novel
“The book was so much better.” How often have we heard/said that phrase when a novel turns into a Hollywood production? Maybe they got the casting wrong. (Hello, Tom Hanks as Professor Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code?) Or maybe they couldn’t fit all the details into the movie (like how the Weasley family plays a much larger role in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potterbooks).

Larry Doyle’s 2007 novel I Love You, Beth Cooper is getting a bit of play right now because of the just-released Chris Columbus movie with Heroes hottie Hayden Panettiere attached. In the film, she plays head cheerleader Beth Cooper and object of affection for valedictorian-debate captain Denis Cooverman. And while the movie is getting “mixed” reviews (11% on Rotten Tomatoes right now!), we’re probably going to skip the movie for different reasons. Reading Doyle’s book brought us back to high school--for better or worse--and we’ve already cast our own roles. Who didn’t know a dorky guy in love with someone outside of his caste system? Who needs Hollywood to help us fill in the blanks?The novel gives readers a glimpse into Denis Cooverman’s life, focusing on the 24 hours following graduation. In his valedictory speech, Denis not only declares his years of loving Beth Cooper “from behind,” but he also calls out those struggling with their sexuality (talking to his ambiguously maybe gay best friend Rich) and other classmates suffering from anger management problems, eating disorders and other issues. Oh, if graduation speeches could really be that memorable!

Denis’s speech causes a lot of waves, and he spends the rest of the night alternately getting pummeled by/running away from Beth Cooper’s hot-headed military boyfriend. For some reason, Beth takes pity on the nerd, and she, her best friends, Denis and Rich form a Breakfast Club-like bond and spend graduation night together, filled with cheap champagne and introspection.

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In the book, Beth Cooper is kind of a crazy bitch, but she does show moments of kindness and vulnerability. Here’s part of the dialogue where the reader finally understands where she’s coming from, and how hopelessly naive (and infatuated) Denis really is:

Beth chewed her cigarette. “Here’s the thing. High school was really great for me. I had a great great time. But now that’s over. Everything from here on out is going to be...ordinary.” Denis couldn’t believe that, wouldn’t accept that. “You’re not ordinary. You’re beautiful.”

“I may be pretty, but not enough to make a living at it. Except maybe in porn.”

The mere thought of this gave Denis the creeps, and wood.

“I’m not doing porn, Denis.”

“Oh. Good. It’s a limited field.”

It’s these kinds of winsome exchanges that make Doyle’s novel an easy, funny and entertaining read. He spent four years as a writer and supervising producer of The Simpsons and as an editor at National Lampoon, so the wit, sex jokes and grossness abound.

I Love You, Beth Cooper, isn’t a world- or life-changing novel. It doesn’t break any new ground. We really didn’t expect it to. But what it does, it does pretty well: It brings readers back to a time in their own lives when jocks were jocks and geeks were geeks, and you knew exactly at which cafeteria table your school’s Denis Cooverman sat.