TEENAGE DIRTBAG by Rebecca Montemurro


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A pleasant YA story about a pair of unlikely high school sweethearts.

Montemurro’s debut novel opens on the last day of school at East McKinley High in Buffalo, N.Y., and tells its tale through two first-person narrators: Kyle Loman, a self-described “loner” and “latchkey kid,” and Bettina Richards, a wealthy, preppy, popular girl. Bettina notices Kyle, a talented aspiring musician, for the first time as he practices for a music competition. “The bass jars me through my diaphragm,” Bettina says. “The thrill the sound produces in certain parts of my body catches me off guard.” Kyle has long had “a notorious obsession” with Bettina, but the social strata of East McKinley has always held them strictly to their own cliques. Kyle, the son of a deadbeat father in Las Vegas and a hardworking waitress mother, is seen by many at the school as a “dirtbag,” while Bettina’s wealthy family is stifled by their need for success and control. Bettina also feels pressure from her boyfriend, Luke, who’s eagerly waiting to take her virginity; she attends summer classes in Barcelona, Spain, in part as a ploy to escape her usual life. At the same time, Kyle travels to Spain to learn flamenco guitar, and he and Bettina soon fall in love. Bettina’s friends are opposed to her relationship with Kyle, accusing her of “slumming with a…loser” and “selling [her]self short.” Kyle’s friends, however, have a different vantage point: “Bettina Richards doesn’t hang around guys like us. She’s too pristine.” Ultimately, however, Kyle and Bettina find that their love is stronger than their friends’ disapproval. Although Montemurro believably depicts the rapport among different groups of friends, some of their language seems forced; Kyle, for example, uses words like “gotta,” “gonna,” and “somethin’ ” with distracting frequency. The wrong-side-of-the-tracks storyline also sometimes comes off as a bit heavy-handed, as when Bettina laments, “I often wish I grew up…dirt poor with a smile on my face.” That said, the author delivers some of her finest prose in the Spanish scenes: “The history seems to bounce off the rounded cobblestones. It echoes in the church bells and whispers on the breeze,” Bettina says. “I’ll always be a visitor looking in from the outside.”

A satisfying, if often predictable, YA tale.

Pub Date: June 8th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1490908861
Page count: 353pp
Publisher: Wordcarver Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
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