The True Meaning of Cleavage

Book review by
Stephanie Dunnewind, Common Sense Media
The True Meaning of Cleavage Book Poster Image
Despite risque cover, this is about friendship.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Jess signs a volunteer sheet with such names as "Horatio Fecalmatter." Jess notes that a lot of people are afraid of cliques at school "whereas Sari and I despise them and fear no one." Jess feels like her mom wishes she were popular. Sari pursues a boy even though she knows he has a girlfriend. Sari dismisses Jess' friend as "Nerdboy."


A teacher flirts with students, earning him a spot in "the Creep Pantheon." Girls call another girl "slutty." There is an oblique but key reference to Sari performing oral sex at a party. Sari dismisses this act as "no big deal." Sari meets with this senior boy once a week while he is in a committed relationship with a girl his age.


"Pissed off."


Prada (as in calling a popular clique the "Prada Mafia"), soda and beer brands, Silly String.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Sari threatens to skip school assemblies to go smoke; Jess notes that "my dad has promised me that if I ever start smoking, he'll rip my lungs out for free." There is beer at a party the girls attend; Sari drinks but Jess says no, even when pressured. Another friend gets drunk and throws up.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that a freshman girl's one-sided relationship with an older boy causes a rift between best friends. Despite knowing David has a steady girlfriend, Sari meets him once a week to perform oral sex because she is "madly, psychotically in love" with him. It doesn't end well, and the friends learn about forgiveness, unconditional support, and trusting one's own judgment. There's some drinking at teen parties and one girl gets drunk and throws up.

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What's the story?

Jess, an artist and sci-fi fan, and her one friend, Sari, start their freshman year in high school. Jess, the narrator, is ordinary and insecure; Sari is \"hot\" and doesn't care what people think about her. \"Basically, it was inevitable that we became best friends. We are essentially the only normal people in our entire school, the only girls who don't communicate by squealing and squeaking.\" Sari gets labeled a tramp by the school cliques when she falls in love with the most popular senior boy, David, and encourages him to break up with his long-time, devoted girlfriend, Thea. Sari's actions become more desperate, until Jess' betrayal thrusts the conflict into the school spotlight.

Is it any good?

The cover, with the title words plunging down a girl's low neckline and a "laugh out loud funny and way twisted" endorsement by Meg Cabot, give the wrong impression of this book's tone. It's an insightful, introspective story about the bonds -- and frailties -- of friendship. Jess is rather horrified by Sari's behavior, which includes drinking and casual oral sex. A popular clique ("the Prada Mafia") comes off as stereotypical, but Fredericks avoids turning the older crush and his girlfriend into villains. Without didacticism, she highlights the drawbacks of Sari's sacrifices, even when Sari doesn't perceive them as such.

At times, the story bogs down and readers join Jess in wishing that Sari would just move on already. Teens may root for Sari's success with her true love, but Fredericks rightly sticks with the harsh reality of broken promises. Jess learns she can survive outside Sari's flamboyant shadow while still supporting her friend.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about looks. Jess believes that "hotness gives you that essential self-confidence and sense of power that you can rely on forever." Her mom thinks that "hotness" isn't that important since looks fade. Who do you agree with? Families can also discuss what girls and boys can expect from a relationship, in contrast to Sari's one-sided affair with David.

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