This teen chick-lit book is the second in the "Airhead" series by Meg Cabot and is published by Point, a division of Scholastic, Inc.
Being Nikki is written for kids ages 12 and older. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Emerson Watts is an average, if not nerdy, 17-year-old, until her body is destroyed by a falling plasma TV in a Stark Megastore (see Airhead review). Around the same time, Stark Enterprises' popular teen supermodel, Nikki Howard, dies of a brain aneurism. Stark strikes a deal with Em's parents: In exchange for the family's silence, Stark's neurosurgery institute will implant Em's brain into Nikki's body.
Now Em must model in the skimpiest fashions (including a $10,000 diamond bra and panties), attend glitzy events, dress lavishly, and convince everyone she's a promiscuous party-girl model. Nikki's brother, Steven, returns from military duty and tells Em (whom he believes to be his sister) that their mother is missing. Em asks Christopher, a pal from her previous life whom she's always secretly loved, for help finding Steven's mom. By hacking into Stark's computer system, Christopher finds the real Nikki (in another body) and Steven's mom. Nikki's brain was supposed to have been destroyed because she learned company secrets. Brandon Stark, heir to Stark Enterprises, agrees to hide Nikki and her mom from his father, but only if Em (still in Nikki's body) will be his girlfriend.
Richard Stark, owner of Stark Enterprises, puts profit over people. He pays little attention to his stars, and even his son, unless the paparazzi are watching. Rendered helpless by their deal with Stark, Em's parents can only see their daughter infrequently and must tell people she's dead. Though Dr. Fong, a surgeon at Stark's neurosurgery institute, is told to dispose of Nikki's brain, his conscience won't allow it. He secretly transplants her brain into another body and hides Nikki and her mother at his home. Christopher's father, a poly-sci professor at NYU, instills in his son a deep-rooted distrust for authority. Lulu says her dad used to hire private detectives to follow her mom around when he thought she was cheating.
Em reminds Nikki's workaholic agent that even God took Sunday off. The agent replies that, if God hadn't, maybe the world wouldn't be such an "effed-up" mess. Em's mom is Jewish and her dad isn't, so they celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. When things don't go her way, Em says karma is getting her back for slacking off in PE. Lulu doesn't know why Nikki is suddenly acting different, but she believes her roommate has undergone a spirit transfer. She's also convinced she was meant to be with Steven because her astrologer said she'd end up with a Libra.
Words like b--ch, p---ed, butt, crap, a--, suck, B.S., and h--- are used repeatedly, and the Lord's name (God, Jesus and Christ) is taken in vain a number of times. From a plane, Em sees the island of Manhattan sticking out like a middle finger.
Nikki's promiscuity is noted repeatedly. Being in Nikki's body sometimes makes Em do and feel things of an erotic nature that she didn't do or feel in her old body. For example, Nikki's body causes Em to make out with Brandon, even though she doesn't want to. She can't stop herself. Lulu tells Em that Christopher won't be able to resist her if she eats oysters, an aphrodisiac. Brandon buries his face in the cleavage of a waitress he's been kissing. Em thinks Lulu likes Steven because he's the first non-gay guy that hasn't wanted her. Em mentions Nikki's lack of hair in her bikini area. Christopher and Em engage in an intense (and somewhat detailed) make out session on her bed.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
Modesty: Nikki poses in a small bikini for a photo shoot, and later wears a tiny diamond-crusted bikini for Stark's version of a Victoria's Secret fashion show. Em leans forward in Brandon's presence, knowing her position will reveal her cleavage. Then, recalling Lulu's words that girls should give and take away, she strategically withdraws the seductive view. Lulu dresses provocatively and flaunts her cleavage to get Steven's attention. Em says Christopher's form-fitting jeans don't leave much to the imagination. She is disappointed that, although she's worn a painful push-up bra, Christopher still pays no attention to her breasts. A female acrobat Lulu hires for her party performs nearly nude. Em wears a slinky dress to Lulu's party, as does her younger teenaged sister.
Partying/Drinking: Nikki's roommate gets Em into the best parties, which result in many late nights and painful early mornings. Nikki's art director recalls a time they drank a lot and went skinny dipping. Brandon has a reputation for being frequently drunk. The tabloids wrongly suggest that Em (as Nikki) is using drugs. Steven says that a party doesn't have to be an elaborate event: A person can just get a keg and pour out a bag of pretzels. Lulu promises to have every imaginable type of liquor at her party. Though some of the characters using alcohol may be legally old enough to do so (this isn't clarified in the text), Em is only 17. Her younger sister, Frida, idolizes her sister's new friends and lifestyle. She attends Lulu's party, where someone gives her enough alcohol to get her drunk while telling her it's non-alcoholic. Nervous that Stark will learn he operated on Nikki, Dr. Fong drinks a shot of whisky. Brandon offers champagne to everyone in his limo, including under-aged Em as Nikki.
Lying: As Nikki, Em's entire life is a lie. She must constantly pretend to be someone else to keep her identity hidden, and she tells many other lies along the way in her efforts to uncover Stark's deception. Other characters, including Christopher, Richard Stark, Dr. Fong and Em's younger sister, Frida, lie in order to keep their plans or current circumstances secret.
Other deviant/criminal behavior: Christopher and his cousin, Felix, plan to hack into Stark's computer system and take down the company. They feel their actions are justified because of what Stark Enterprises has done to Em. Felix, a 14-year-old, is already under house arrest for a computer hacking crime, yet he still has access to his computer equipment. Em and friends steal Brandon's limo to track down Steven's mom. Dr. Fong tells them that folks in the Stark Corporation could kill them as they have done to others. Em recalls how she and Christopher used to save their money to buy "adult only" video games. Stark Enterprises tries to destroy Nikki Howard's brain because she learns company secrets. Dr. Fong forges documents so Stark won't discover that he's saved Nikki's life.
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