The labyrinthine social lives of 1990s high school students unfurl as they write and exchange notes.
Tara plans on netting the role of Sandy in the school’s production of Grease. But when a new ninth-grader named Matt lands the male lead of Danny while Tara is passed over for her coveted role, the ball is set in motion for a year of offstage drama. Told entirely in epistolary format as notes passed back and forth between characters, all of whom seem to be white, this debut novel effectively captures the voice of insecure, duplicitous Tara, whose penchant for cutesy phrases and colloquial writing style are juxtaposed against her poisonous angling in both her romantic relationships and friendships as well as her pointed, cruel othering of her Jewish theater rival, Joy. While the portrayal of the 1990s suburban New England experience is accurate, replete with mainstream cultural references of the time, it’s uncertain whether these will be of any interest to today’s teens. Equally questionable is whether readers will connect with a protagonist so absorbed with the relentless ping-pong machinations of her peer dynamics that she imagines herself a latter-day Anne Frank.
Steeped in nostalgia, this exhausting novel might have been better geared for adults. (Fiction. 14-18)