A promising YA debut, despite a few weak spots in characterization.


In Choates’ (Playing the Game as a Man!, 2007) first YA novel, a young man barely survives middle school challenges on and off the track while learning life lessons.

Jack Vandergriff is determined to make a name for himself in this year’s yearbook, and he decides that joining the track team is just the ticket. He masks his insecurities with bravado, but he learns on the very first day of track tryouts that he’s totally inept; amazingly, however, he makes the team. During track season, it always seems like he’s taking one stride forward for every two strides back, but he persists. He’s also dogged by his annoying little sister, Abby, who always carries a camera, and his (supposedly) best friend, Broc, who’s a photographer for the yearbook; they both catch him in embarrassing photos, and Broc gleefully shows his pictures to the whole school. As Jack becomes a laughingstock, his longtime friend, Grace, is his only comfort, aside from his supportive but largely clueless parents. But he slowly climbs out of this hole to challenge Broc. Along the way, he learns that his “biggest and toughest opponent wasn’t the other runners. It was me.” Choates offers a believable protagonist in Jack as a kind of middle school Everykid: somewhat nerdy, painfully insecure, needing to belong where it counts, and not above desperate lying. Readers may find it a stretch, though, that Jack’s lifelong best friend could turn on him for relatively flimsy reasons, merely for the purposes of plot complication. However, Choates, a former high school runner herself who now competes in marathons, does make the races convincing, ably portraying the outer pain and inner torment they cause. In the end, she shows that Jack will enter eighth grade humbler and wiser.

 A promising YA debut, despite a few weak spots in characterization.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5374-8005-3

Page Count: 222

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2017

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Aspiring filmmaker/first-novelist Chbosky adds an upbeat ending to a tale of teenaged angst—the right combination of realism and uplift to allow it on high school reading lists, though some might object to the sexuality, drinking, and dope-smoking. More sophisticated readers might object to the rip-off of Salinger, though Chbosky pays homage by having his protagonist read Catcher in the Rye. Like Holden, Charlie oozes sincerity, rails against celebrity phoniness, and feels an extraliterary bond with his favorite writers (Harper Lee, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Ayn Rand, etc.). But Charlie’s no rich kid: the third child in a middle-class family, he attends public school in western Pennsylvania, has an older brother who plays football at Penn State, and an older sister who worries about boys a lot. An epistolary novel addressed to an anonymous “friend,” Charlie’s letters cover his first year in high school, a time haunted by the recent suicide of his best friend. Always quick to shed tears, Charlie also feels guilty about the death of his Aunt Helen, a troubled woman who lived with Charlie’s family at the time of her fatal car wreck. Though he begins as a friendless observer, Charlie is soon pals with seniors Patrick and Sam (for Samantha), stepsiblings who include Charlie in their circle, where he smokes pot for the first time, drops acid, and falls madly in love with the inaccessible Sam. His first relationship ends miserably because Charlie remains compulsively honest, though he proves a loyal friend (to Patrick when he’s gay-bashed) and brother (when his sister needs an abortion). Depressed when all his friends prepare for college, Charlie has a catatonic breakdown, which resolves itself neatly and reveals a long-repressed truth about Aunt Helen. A plain-written narrative suggesting that passivity, and thinking too much, lead to confusion and anxiety. Perhaps the folks at (co-publisher) MTV see the synergy here with Daria or any number of videos by the sensitive singer-songwriters they feature.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02734-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: MTV/Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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A familiar but heartfelt romance for easygoing readers.


In O’Gorman’s YA debut, two best friends try to fool people into thinking that they’re in love—and then discover a new facet of their relationship.

Sally Spitz is a frizzy-haired 17-year-old girl with a charming zeal for three things: Harry Potter (she’s a Gryffindor), Star Wars, and getting into Duke University. During her senior year of high school, she goes on a slew of miserable dates, set up by her mother and her own second-best–friend–turned-matchmaker, Lillian Hooker. Sally refuses to admit to anyone that she’s actually head over Converses in love with her longtime best friend, a boy named Baldwin Eugene Charles Kent, aka “Becks.” After a particularly awkward date, Sally devises a plan to end Lillian’s matchmaking attempts; specifically, she plans to hire someone to act as her fake boyfriend, or “F.B.F.” But before Sally can put her plan into action, a rumor circulates that Sally and Becks are already dating. Becks agrees to act as Sally’s F.B.F. in exchange for a box of Goobers and Sally’s doing his calculus homework for a month. Later, as they hold hands in the hall and “practice” make-out sessions in Becks’ bedroom, their friendship heads into unfamiliar territory. Over the course of this novel, O’Gorman presents an inviting and enjoyable account of lifelong friendship transforming into young love. Though the author’s reliance on familiar tropes may be comforting to a casual reader, it may frustrate those who may be looking for a more substantial and less predictable plot. A number of ancillary characters lack very much complexity, and the story, overall, would have benefited from an added twist or two. Even so, however, this remains a largely engaging and often endearing debut. 

A familiar but heartfelt romance for easygoing readers.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64063-759-7

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Entangled: Teen

Review Posted Online: Jan. 7, 2020

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