[Book Review] Barbie: My Fabulous Friends by Mary Man-Kong

Do you know who Barbie's best friends are? Did you know that Teresa is a talented artist? Or that Nikki loves to sing and dance? Or that Summer loves sports? Little girls will love to learn all about Barbie and her fabulous friends in this full-color storybook.

On one hand, this is a cute book for (very young) Barbie fans. On the other hand, I have no idea what the heck it's talking about. I have never heard of most of these characters; they definitely weren't Barbie's friends when I was growing up. So the book clearly ties into either a new line of dolls or a new series of books or maybe the Barbie movies. (Or is there a television show I'm unaware of? Perhaps.) The book seems to be outlining a specific modern continuity unlike the ones that came before it (such as the ones that feature Barbie's sisters, her My Scene days, her brief break-up with Ken, etcetera)--one that I never knew existed. Lacking any knowledge of what this continuity is or when it happened or where it comes from, I'm fairly baffled by the apparent existence of these "fabulous friends".

But I imagine that if you're clued-in to the recent goings-on in the fictional Barbie universe, this is a really cute book. It introduces Barbie as a movie star, which I think is pretty clever if one assumes it means that Barbie's real-world movies are her fictional-universe productions, and goes on to list her friends. I am familiar with only three of these; I believe the others are new additions to the franchise, but of course I could be wrong. Old faces are Teresa, a Hispanic woman who is apparently artistic and some kind of designer (the book makes no mention of what exactly she designs); Ken, Barbie's blonde* boyfriend who is apparently "the captain of the football team"; and Steven, Ken's African American best friend who "loves all the latest techno-gadgets and gear". New faces are Nikki, an ethnically ambiguous dark-skinned dancer; Summer, a "sporty" blonde; Raquelle, a rival actress; and Ryan, a "sooo cute", "mysterious" brunette who I'm sure would've been right up my ally if I were part of the target audience. Barbie also apparently has a slew of extremely stereotypical "rich white girl" pets: a teeny tiny Chihuahua, a floofy white cat, and an even floofier poodle.

And I have to say, I'm left with at least a few questions--none of which really matter, of course, but they're questions nonetheless. Has Ken always been "officially" blonde? My Ken dolls were brunette. How old are these people? They all seem to have careers and homes of their own, but the book keeps mentioning "school". Is Nikki supposed to be African American, and if so, why is she just a palette-swapped Barbie while Steven has more obvious ethnic features compared to Ken's? Why are they all clearly extremely rich and successful at such a young age? Why are all the girls/women pursuing "Acceptable Female Goals"? Perhaps it's a personal thing, but I would've appreciated a mention of a STEM job or at least the "sporty" girl playing more than just tennis. And again, what continuity are these characters a part of, and is it intended to be a long-term thing or a passing gimmick like the My Scene dolls?

If you have a Barbie uberfan in your life, this will probably be a great book for him or her. At the very least, the art style is adorable. For the rest of us, though--especially those of us who aren't exactly keeping up with what Barbie's doing as of 2014--it's probably a waste of time.

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