This young adult novel rises a bit above the usual cool crowd versus nerds story with clever dialogue, a good deal of humor, and an unconventional ending.
The narrator, Ezra Faulkner, has just turned seventeen, and he is the “golden boy” at school – he is junior class president, captain of the tennis team, “embarrassingly popular,” and dating the most popular girl, Charlotte. However, at a party at the end of junior year, he got into a fight with Charlotte, discovered her having “outercourse” with another guy, and was in a car accident after he left the party – a hit-and-run by a car that came out of nowhere. Ezra’s knee was shattered, his future as a tennis star was over, and he walked with a cane. The “cool crowd” barely acknowledges him now.
Ezra falls in with his old friend from grammar school days, Toby, and Toby’s debate team friends. Toby convinces Ezra to join the team as well, and soon Ezra discovers that these “rejects” actually are better at making conversation and having fun than his old crowd. He also falls for one of the debaters, a new girl at school, Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is smart, beautiful in an unconventional way, and definitely follows her own drummer. She tries to convince Ezra that he too can be happy finding out who he is and what he wants rather than just going along with the dictates of the popular kids. She quotes a line from a poem by Mary Oliver to him that she uses as her guide:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do/With our one wild and precious life?”
She also teaches Ezra about the modern philosopher Foucault and his idea of the “panopticon”:
“…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.”
Break out of this high-school imposed prison, she encourages Ezra. And indeed, Ezra goes through a metamorphosis. But Cassidy had a secret, and a prison of her own.
Discussion: There is a lot to like about this book, but the story had a few problems that kept me from loving it.
First of all, the popular cool kids were too stereotypically totally vapid and nasty without an ounce of complexity. In fact, one was led to wonder how Ezra had originally fit in with them.
Cassidy’s character was a bit inconsistent, and while I liked the ending, I don’t know if I found it convincingly believable.
The author gives Ezra a clever line to say in class about the Holy Roman Empire that actually came from Voltaire. She was trying to establish that Ezra was smart; I don’t think it would have vitiated that aim if she had provided proper attribution.
Finally, there was quite a bit of “outersex” going on, but with nary a mention of precautions. Clearly many teens opt for oral sex as a way of avoiding intercourse and/or because they consider it to be safer. While it is true that it won’t lead to pregnancy, several sexually transmitted diseases including HIV, herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, HPV, and viral hepatitis can be passed on through oral sex, and it can even put you at risk for throat cancer. I don’t think it would have detracted from the story for the author to have shown the kids using barrier protection.
Evaluation: This story is smart and funny in many ways, with lots of interesting messages and a “John Green vibe.” While I had a few criticisms (see the Discussion section), overall I liked the story.
Published by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2013