Saturday, April 28, 2012

Book Review: A Match Made in High School by Kristin Walker

A Match Made in High School Cover
A side-splitting marriage-of-convenience comedy

A Match Made in High School by Kristin Walker
Reading Level:
Young Adult
Release Date: February 4, 2010
Publisher: Razorbill
Pages: 288
Source: Purchased
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

Seventeen-year-old Fiona, along with all the other seniors of East Columbus High School, is outraged when the principle and guidance counselor announce that their participation in a new marriage-education class is mandatory for graduation. Each senior is paired up with a fake marriage partner not of their choosing for the entire school year. They are forced to earn money together, do a budget, participate in a social activity, figure out together how to solve randomly assigned life problems, and meet weekly for marriage counseling with the guidance counselor. Fiona's best friend Marcie doesn't come off too badly. She's paired with the music-mad Johnny Mercer who is a gentle giant and extremely funny. No such luck for Fiona. Not only didn't she get paired with the one guy that would have made this whole exercise worth doing, her long-time, unrequited crush, Gabe, but to add insult on injury, Gabe is placed with Fiona's biggest enemy. Amanda is a beautiful, arrogant cheerleader who's been calling Fiona Princess Pee Pants ever since she wet her pants in public in second grade. And to make matters as bad as possible, Fiona is matched with Amanda's jock boyfriend, Todd, who plays pranks on Fiona that make Amanda's taunts over the years look like friendly hugs. But Fiona doesn't take Todd's inciting actions lying down. She pranks him right back, and the war is on.

This book is repeatedly laugh-out-loud funny. Fiona is a strong, determined heroine, and her sparring with Todd is hilarious. In the midst of the humor, though, is a compelling coming-of-age story line as Fiona learns, through her travails with the marriage-education course, a great deal about her friends, her enemies, and herself that she never realized before.

This is Kristin Walker's debut novel, and I can't wait to see what she comes up with next! For those who enjoy this book, I recommend several other YA romantic comedies, including The Oracle of Dating by Allison van Diepen and Tina Ferraro's The ABC's of Kissing Boys, How to Hook a Hottie, and Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress.

Heroine: 5

Subcharacters: 5

Writing: 5

Chick-Lit Plot: 5

Romantic Subplot: 4

Overall: 5

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book Review: Mad Love by Suzanne Selfors

Mad Love Cover
Is it magic or madness? A young adult contemporary fantasy about Cupid in Seattle

Mad Love by Suzanne Selfors
Reading Level:
Young Adult
Release Date: January 4, 2011
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Pages: 336
Source: Amazon Vine
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

Sixteen-year-old Alice Amorous is the daughter of bestselling romance author, Belinda Amorous. Due to her mother's suffering from years of untreated bipolar disorder, Alice's family life has been highly unstable, leading to the present crisis of her mother being institutionalized for catatonic depression.

Alice has no father to step in and take care of her, because she's the product of a one-night stand occurring during one of her mother's manic phases--and Alice needs help badly. Her mother earned a great deal of money over the years from her writing, but her mania caused Belinda to blow all her earnings, and Alice is now scrambling to pay their bills and keep up appearances so that Social Services doesn't take her away from her mother.

The one worthwhile manic-inspired purchase of Alice's mother is the four-unit rental house where Alice and her mother have lived for several years. They share it with a grandmotherly lady named Mrs. Bobot, an elderly minister named Reverend Ruttles, and a nurturing, gay, legal secretary named Archibald. In addition, Mrs. Bobot's anorexic granddaughter Realm, who is Alice's age, is visiting for the summer, but she's no friend to Alice. All Realm cares about is publishing the horror novel she's written, and she threatens to expose Belinda's mental illness to the world if Alice doesn't forge a letter in Belinda's name recommending Realm's novel to Belinda's editor.

The three eccentric adults in Alice's life are very concerned when, after a sudden fainting spell, she becomes obsessed with a mysterious white-haired boy named Errol and begins to hear his voice in her head. Alice is worried, too, because she isn't sure if what is happening to her is magic or madness. Is she starting to exhibit signs of the same mental illness that has destroyed her mother's life? Or could it actually be true that she's been shot by the invisible arrow of the one and only Eros, commonly known as Cupid?

Ms. Selfors is an excellent writer who particularly excels at quirky characters and situations, and that talent is very much in evidence here. I also enjoyed that all the adults in this book truly care about Alice. In a delicate, non-preachy way, Ms. Selfors uses every character in this book, even the obvious antagonists like Realm and Errol/Eros, to offer crucial insights to Alice that allow her to grow in emotional maturity in believable ways by the end of the book.

Ms. Selfors is extremely gifted at writing comedy, but in the case of this book, she has created a "dramedy," a mix of comedy and drama. Her two previous young adult novels, Coffeehouse Angel and Saving Juliet, are entirely comedic with strong fantasy elements and light subject matter that is perfectly suited to their humorous tone. In contrast, Mad Love contains less fantasy than either of these books, and it covers much more serious issues, including mental illness in multiple characters, cancer, eating disorders, illegitimacy, and child neglect and abandonment.

In this book, the laughs come as a kind of "comic relief" from Alice's ongoing painful struggles with the circumstances surrounding her mother's tragic mental illness. Some examples of this comedy include a scene where Errol shoots Alice with an invisible, magical arrow causing her to yell wild accusations that no one believes, and the first chance Alice has to actually talk with Tony Lee, the boy she's been staring at every morning for weeks from her kitchen window as he rides by her home on his skateboard.

For those wondering what ages are suitable for this book, it seems to be aimed at preteens and younger teens, that is ages 11-14, for several reasons: In spite of the hard life Alice has lived, she seems very naive for her sixteen years. Her romance with Tony, the skateboard boy, is definitely G-rated. And the inflated way in which the author portrays both Alice's and Realm's novel writing achievements is unrealistic to a degree that is usually only found in middle-grade novels.

There is only one situation in this story that is slightly questionable for this age group: Alice's magically induced obsession with Errol/Eros leads to one brief but sensual kiss, and he shamelessly confesses to Alice that he has used his magical arrows to take (presumably sexual) advantage of countless women over the past 2000 years.

Heroine: 4

Subcharacters: 4

Fantasy World-Building: 3

Writing: 5

Drama Plot: 4

Overall: 4