Let’s be honest, school – especially as a teenager in high school – wasn’t always a picnic. In fact, sometimes it was downright miserable.
So in case you were feeling nostalgic for sharpened pencils and Scantron bubble sheets, I’ve got a Buy, Borrow, Bypass that will make you glad to be done with them forever.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
This is one of those books that I’ve described to everyone I’ve talked to about it as “gut-punch of a book.” When golden child, Lydia turns up dead, her parents, brother and sister are left struggling to understand how they came to this point, and what happened to Lydia. Lydia is the middle child of parents who have projected all of their own fears, insecurities and hopes onto her. In the 1970s in Ohio, Lydia struggles to live up to the scientific and academic standards her mother pushes her to and also to embody the social butterfly that her father always wished he could be. And as the child of a white mother and a Chinese father, Lydia also battles the never-ending difficulties of “being different,” a mark that scars every teenager who just wants to fit in.
Told from the point of view of her remaining family members, Lydia’s story starts to coalesce into a heartbreaking and tragic portrait of a girl who is, at the most fundamental level, alone.
Verdict: Buy. You won’t regret it.
The Fever by Megan Abbott
Can we all just agree that teenagers are horny, and that getting all histrionic about it is going to make it worse?
That’s basically the premise of Megan Abbott’s novel, with all sorts of weird, surreal things happening to the teenage girls in this one high school. It’s difficult to tell whether the surreal things are normal teenage girl stuff, a la Salem witches, or something seriously wrong, like a virus or a side effect of the recent HPV vaccine they all got.
The parents and the students are freaking out after several of the girls have attacks that put them in the hospital, and it quickly becomes clear that “The Fever” of the title could be referring to whatever is felling the teenage girls or it could refer to the fear that spreads through the community as a result.
I enjoyed the book for the most part, but I was a little disappointed with the resolution of the story. It was a bit of a let down after the suspense that carried the whole book, but I think that some of that may have had to do with the fact that I listened to the audiobook and the ending felt way too abrupt for me. It may not be the case for every reader, so its definitely worth a shot.
Verdict: Borrow. It’s a great, fast read, but if you dislike the ending, like I did, you won’t be mad you spent the money on it.
This Is The Water by Yannick Murphy
Centered around a community-based, year-round swim team, Yannick Murphy explores the world of Swim Parents before, during and after the murder of one of the girls on the team. Though not directly about students and school, the parents in this one are a sharp reminder that sometimes we never leave high school, no matter how hard we try.
To be clear, there really was no way I wasn’t going to read this book. As a competitive swimmer for almost 15 years, I spent my entire childhood in exactly these kinds of settings (murder excluded) and the descriptions of swim meets – the oppressive heat inside the pool, the so-tight-it-hurts-to-breathe swimsuits, the different kinds of swimmers and parents, even the smell of the pool – were so spot on, I actually got homesick for my old swimming life. The murder itself throws the community into upheaval, though each character reacts differently and within their own scope of panic, especially as it becomes clear that it’s actually the act of a serial killer who has a string of similar murders under his belt.
Let’s talk about the style of the writing, because it would be unfair of me not to mention it. Murphy has a really unique style in This Is The Water, where the sentences follow a “This is…” format. It seems at first to be really off putting and I was ready to throw in the towel, but very quickly, the style fades from notice and the pacing and story take center stage. The audio version is particularly helpful in muting the highly stylistic writing, plus the narrator is freakin’ amazing. Though I take no responsibility if you’re in public and something shocking happens in the story and you yell, “Holy SHIT” and everyone looks at you like you’ve lost your mind. Not…that…I…did that….
Verdict: Buy, preferably in audio.
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