I appreciate that many young adult books are focusing on the very real elements of sex, drugs, and alcohol that are so prevalent in the lives of many high school students. This book reads much like a John Green novel where romance is woven in among a panoply of tougher challenges. With pop culture references, a flavor of Ten Things I Hate About You, and ample drama among the characters in the story, the novel reads quickly and you feel strongly for everyone and what they are going through. While I wanted a little more follow up on several components, there is strong promise to be found in this author and their writing. Please see my full review below!
Alex DiFranco is ready for the next step in her life after high school. A model student, she spends her time in class, doing homework, and ensuring that her future is as bright as she can make it. But when she discovers that she needs one more life skills class in order to graduate on time, she finds herself in Shop with the handsome and mysterious Jake Reed where her entire life begins to change. Surrounded by friends and new experiences, Alex investigates new sides to adolescence that teach her more than school alone could do.
This story is well written, keeping the pages turning with ease. Presented in the third person, the narrative is able to shift easily between different characters’ perspectives as the novel progresses. While Alex is the primary protagonist, other narrative arcs are helpful in making the novel into a more robust tale than it would otherwise have been. Through this, readers are able to better understand the featured characters and the experiences and thoughts that intertwine from one chapter to the next.
Though the story works well and has strong characters and delivery, there are several moments that could benefit from a more thorough connection to the overall plot. Often, significant scenes take place that are not reintegrated into the narrative, which makes them feel less important. This is slightly distracting because readers are interested to learn more about what happens in those moments, but the plot instead moves forward in a different direction. Also, the story itself takes place in Ohio, but Canadian slang and terminology are used throughout which makes the narrative slightly less authentic. Despite these issues, though, the book is an engaging read for fans of young adult literature.
Importantly, this book does not shy away from the very real challenges plaguing young people at present. Underage drinking, opiate abuse, and mental health issues are found throughout the story as the characters are attempting to finish high school and go to college. Occasional strong language and intense topics make this story a better fit for more mature readers, especially those who may have personal experience with any of the situations addressed by the narrative. Though the story would benefit from a revision to ensure continuity and connection, it shows great promise and is a captivating read.
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