I read this right after Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac and that particular let-down had left me wary of trying another YA novel. But it was at my local library, it looked fairly interesting, and as I’m entrenched in this year’s summer reading program, I’m willing to read just about anything between covers. I think because I had prepared myself for another disappointment, I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this one.
Golden boy, Ezra Faulkner loses everything in one night. Or so he thinks. Injured a car wreck, he can no longer play sports, which he thought was both his ticket to college, and the only way to maintain his social status. Now an outcast from the people he considered friends he finds himself drawn to a group of misfits on the debate team who accept him as one of them, and support him as he finally starts to grow up and become a decent human being. When a “new girl” shows up, Ezra is quickly drawn into her orbit. Cassidy is unlike any of the girls he’s ever dated, or even known for that matter – intelligent, genuine, and disinterested in social status.
Now the summary did not sound encouraging to me. I usually hate these kind of stories. Anything about cliques and social status is usually off my list. But it ended up being much more than I expected. So many YA novels’ messages boil down to ‘be who you want to be.’ This had a little bit of that, but I came away with something more than that: grow up! You’re not going to be in high school for the rest of your life, so grow up, be a man, and decide what you want from life!
The members of the debate team perfectly embody true friendship. Friendship means forgiving. It means being there, and supporting each other when no one else will. It means teamwork. Something Ezra had never experienced in all his self-centered relationships before his injury.
And Cassidy was very different from the typical female love-interest I’ve read. Yes, she’s beautiful and mysterious (why are love-interests always ‘mysterious’?) but her depth and intelligence made her incredibly enjoyable to read. I think she won me over with this discussion:
“There was this philosopher-slash-historian called Foucault, who wrote about how society is like this legendary prison called the panopticon. In the panopticon, you might be under constant observation, except you can never be sure whether someone is watching or not, so you wind up following the rules anyway.”
“But how do you know who’s a watcher and who’s a prisoner?” I asked.
“That’s the point. Even the watchers are prisoners.”
Something about this view of peer pressure and social status really struck me. And that was just the beginning. Now, I love poetry. Most poetry, anyway. And when Cassidy started quoting obscure poems, that I know and love, I knew it was going to be a fun book.
It was very well-written. The author has a way of taking little, seemingly meaningless happenings and making them beautiful. Every scene had a unique flavor of its own, and the small stuff that makes up life was so personally and vividly handled that I became very involved in the story. From debate competitions and fireworks, to sitting in a park’s playground structure or in a college’s lecture hall, even flash mobs (the dancing kind, not the riots) and geocaching, everything seemed like an adventure.
But it had a bittersweet ending. I couldn’t have been happier with Ezra’s ending. He became a man, at last. He grew up and took life by the horns. And that was what the whole book was building toward. But Cassidy’s character development wasn’t as encouraging. I think the author’s point was that people aren’t always how you imagine them. Cassidy’s ending fit her character, and brought more good points out of Ezra, but it was a bit sad to see the narcissism come out in a character I had liked so much, and to see Ezra have to admit it to himself and try to understand what she had become, even if he didn’t like it.
A personal message I came away with, reminded me of a conversation we’ve had in my family many times. God puts people in our lives when we need them. We may not need them for long, or they may be there for years. But sometimes friends disappear from our lives for one reason or another. But God gave them to us when we needed them, and that makes every friend special…even after they’re gone.
The only reason I can’t give this book 5 stars, or recommend it freely is that there was more innuendo and sex than I care for. The first chapter was the worst. Between the extreme self-absorption of the 'popular' characters and the crudeness of the sexual matters in the opening chapters it almost made me put the book away, and that never happens. Sex was handled callously and seemed a bit gratuitous, and it confused me, because it clashed very strangely with the rest of the book. So much of the book is beautiful settings, flowery prose and deep discussion about life. It just wasn’t right. But once you get through the first few chapters where the main character has no values to admire, things smooth out and begin improving.
But I enjoyed it so much that I’m planning on buying it, and going through it like my Mom did for us when we were kids, with a bottle of whiteout and/or a pair of scissors to excise the parts I most object to. Any of my friends who are interested in it are welcome to borrow my PG edit of a PG-13 novel.