At the start of this book, Tonya Valentine (Toni) is 17, it is the summer before her senior year, and she turns 18 midway through the book. Her father, whom she adored, died in a motorcycle accident two years ago. Her mother remarried a year ago. Toni loves her mother, but she resents her stepfather.
Toni has been close friends for 10 years, since they were in second grade, with three boys who are her age and live on her street. They initially formed a close circle of friendship when they spotted what they all agreed was the tail of a Loch Ness style monster in a local lake in their small hometown in Vermont. Over time, as a group they came up with the following nicknames for each other:
Toni is McRib because at one point she gorged on 10 of them in a single sitting. Micah, Toni's next-door neighbor, is Loch, because he is most interested in seeking out the local Loch Ness monster. Luke is nicknamed Ollie and Justin is Cowboy, for reasons I can't recall.
Even though the four friends have spent many hours together over the years shooting hoops, watching football, playing video games, and hanging out together at school, Toni is convinced that the chief thing holding them together is that they periodically go out on the lake in a hopeful quest to see the lake monster again. At the very beginning of the book, after yet one more failed attempt at a monster sighting, Toni is afraid that Cowboy and Ollie are losing interest in their ongoing quest. In a desperate attempt at renewing her bond with her guys, so that the gang doesn't drift apart, Toni suggests that the four of them moon their principal, who is just leaving the local movie theater with a date. Loch and Cowboy refuse, but Ollie is game. Unfortunately, though Toni and Ollie hide their faces during the prank, the principal figures out who they are and calls their parents. Ollie's parents are so angry, they refuse to fund a snowboarding trip he has been greatly looking forward to. He blames Toni entirely for his punishment and holds a huge grudge against her. Even worse, Toni's mother and her stepfather insist on sending her to an all-girl private school an hour's drive away for two reasons: to drastically reduce the time she spends with her gauche, male friends, and to force her to experience living as a girl, due to the female academy insisting that its students wear skirts and engage in "ladylike" behavior. These two disastrous consequences of Toni's prank are the dead-opposite of what she desired--instead of re-bonding her to her guy friends, it has driven them physically and emotionally farther away.
Toni has never had a female friend or participated in female culture before this new school, and she feels like she's on a foreign planet--until suddenly Toni finds herself comforting a weeping fellow student, and offering her advice on how to win back her boyfriend, which ends with Toni asking Loch to be her friend's pretend date to make her friend's ex jealous. This turns out to be the beginning of Toni's first female friendship, and the dawning of a brand new scheme by Toni to rope her guy friends back into her life. She decides to help them earn much needed money for Ollie's snowbarding and for college by working for Toni's G-rated escort service as fake dates for lovelorn, wealthy girls at Toni's female academy.
This young adult novel combines comedy and drama in a form that I personally would call "dramedy." The main focus of the story is a young-adult staple, "coming of age," and the secondary story is a classic romance plot, falling for the boy next door. I am very happy to report there is no romantic triangle.
The drama comes from Toni's poignant loss of her father and the emotional fallout from that. The comedy lies in slapstick situations surrounding Toni's gender-identity issues as a perpetual tomboy. Her version of being "one of the guys" is to emulate certain crude, immature behaviors of preteen and teenage, male culture, including competitive, loud belching, drooling while sleeping, dripping snot and wiping it on her pants or her sleeve, and scratching her behind in public. There is also frequent emphasis on the slovenliness of her bedroom and car and the fact that she loves wearing ugly, male athletic shorts and sloppy T-shirts as her primary attire.
In a YA market that is saturated with sex, drugs, violence, and suicidally depressed teens, among other dark subjects, it is a pleasure to run across, if not all-out comedy, at least a mix of comedy and drama, such as occurs in this novel. There is no swearing, and no sexual contact beyond kissing. There is one scene of drinking to excess at a wild party, but it is not glorified because most of the drunken teens get sick.
Overall, I would rate this book as G shading a bit toward PG due to the underage drinking.
Reviewer disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from NetGalley.
I rate this book as follows:
Romantic Interest: 5
Coming of Age Plot: 5
Romance Subplot: 5
Overall: 4.7, rounded to 5