Funny that I should read this novel a month or so after seeing the film Superbad, as both are coming-of-age stories that are aimed squarely at adults. I won’t compare the two beyond that, though, as it would be unfair to both. Superbad and “I Love You, Beth Cooper” are both spectacularly funny, just in different ways.
The is a fun, farsical novel is the story of the graduation night of one Denis Cooverman, uber-nerd and head of the debate team, who proclaims his undying love for the school’s head cheerleader in front of his entire class during his valedictory speech. To the surprise of Denis and his movie-quote-spouting and possibly gay best friend Rich, Beth Cooper and her two friends show up at Denis’ party, but not for the reasons he was hoping for; it seems that Beth Cooper already has a boyfriend in the military who didn’t take kindly to Denis’ proclamation. This leads into an all-night adventure that revisits all the standard high-school landmark cliches – the out-of-control post-graduation party, the abandoned high school gymnasium, and the parents’ place by the lake.
This is also an amazingly funny book, even though there’s a bit too much tough-guy-beating-up-on-nerd action, and author Larry Doyle packs jokes in every page as well as wonderfully nailing the absurdity and the terror of adolescence. Every chapter opens with a quote from a teen film and a drawing of Denis by illustrator Evan Dorkin – the images change as the night goes on, so as our hero gets drenched in flop sweat, escapes getting mauled by members of the U.S. military, gets plastered on imported beer, suffers a champagne cork in the eye, encounters a swarm of mosquitoes, and falls into a serving table full of chips and salsa, the portrait changes accordingly.
Brilliant work of literature? Not quite. Fun book that will take you back to the days of Spanish Club and Homecoming dances? Absolutely.