Jesse Alderman, 17, is called “Sway” because he has a talent for getting people what they want, and then extracting favors or money in return. As one of Jesse’s friends explains:
Sway ain’t somethin’ you can define. A brother who’s got sway is the man – don’t have to try to be cool, just…is. … He’s so slick, he could convince you that I’m white, have you believin’ it like it’s gospel.”
Jesse doesn’t seem to have any scruples about fulfilling requests, nor any emotional involvement in their consequences. His mother committed suicide, and his father is an alcoholic. Life seems simpler to him if he avoids feelings, or any closeness with anyone, and pushes people away, except those he needs for his “business.”
All this changes, however, when he is asked by a Neanderthal-like football player, Ken Foster, to make Bridget Smalley want to go out with him. Jesse succeeds as always, but finds, in the process of investigating what Bridget is like and what might impress her (to tell Ken), he actually gets to like Bridget a lot himself.
Bridget is called (deprecatingly by some) a “saint” – she volunteers at a center for the disabled, she visits her grandmother weekly at a nursing home, and in general, is a good person in addition to (or in spite of) looking like “an angel.”
Inadvertently, Jesse is changed by her. He gets to know Bridget’s brother Pete, who has cerebral palsy, and treats him just like he treats everyone else, which is to say, like a jerk. But Pete loves him for that, and Jesse actually gets to appreciate Pete’s company. Jesse also “adopts” a “grandfather” at the nursing home, so he can impress Bridget in that way also, but finds he comes to be quite attached to Mr. Dunkelman. Jesse also finds himself helping out people who have nothing to trade, just because Bridget likes them.
In short, Jesse’s soul of ice is starting to thaw. But now Bridget is dating Ken, and Ken has threatened to rip Jesse apart if he ever comes near Bridget. Worse yet, when confronted by Ken, Jesse denies he likes either Bridget or Pete, and Pete overhears this as well as the nature of the scheme that hooked up Ken with Bridget in the first place. It looks like Jesse’s “dynasty” is going to come apart, and he is about to lose everything: not only his “sway,” but what has come to be even more important to him: friendship, goodness, and redemption.
Evaluation: I didn’t expect to like this; Jesse is someone who seems very unappealing in the beginning of the book. But as the story unfolds, you get to know why he acts like he does, and what kind of person he really is inside. The dénouement was a little too Hollywood-ish, but it will probably please most readers.
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan Publishers, 2014