Fifteen-year-old Holly Kim isn’t remotely excited about starting her sophomore year. After all, other than studying—something that her mother is constantly on her about—all she really ever does is hang out with her three best friends, snark about the popular kids, try not to fall asleep while copy editing the school newspaper, and do her best NOT to get noticed.
Drastically altering a peppy senior’s boring essay about how AWESOME the school year is going to be—the title change alone will give you the gist: She changed it from New Beginnings, New Hopes, to New Beginnings, More of the Same Crap—and then ACCIDENTALLY PRINTING IT in the newspaper? Not the best way to stay under the radar.
The administration and the popular crowd are offended, but the journalism teacher thinks she’s got talent: So, rather than being punished, Holly suddenly goes from lowly copy editor to FULL-FLEDGED COLUMNIST. (She’s still stuck with the copy editing, though.)
In terms of a school story, a friendship story and a coming-of-age story, Maurene Goo’s Since You Asked... isn’t particularly memorable. The dialogue reads stiff, as if the characters are reading from a script rather than actually talking; Goo is liberal with the adverbs and tends to tell us how the characters are feeling, rather than showing; very few of the secondary characters have any real depth, and ditto the many, many plot lines.
Holly herself, though, is a standout. She’s a girl trying to fit into two very different cultures—she’s a Korean American, born and raised in San Diego—and reconciling the cultural traditions of her family with any semblance of a social life...well, it’s difficult. While I have no doubt that many readers will identify with and enjoy that aspect of her character, I appreciated her even more for being an Angry Young Woman. Some of that anger comes from familial pressure (she feels like she’s doing pretty well when she’s able to refrain from calling her mother a fascist); some of it comes from dealing with the everyday, moronic racism of her peers; some of it comes from the frustration borne of trying to abide by two distinct sets of cultural norms; but most of it just comes from BEING A TEENAGER. Holly’s emotions in that department are just as chaotic, confused and irrational as can be, and because of that, they’re all the more honest: She’s often irritable, crabby, self-absorbed and unfair...and in all of that, she’s believable.
In one of her later columns, she writes about the striking differences between teen life as seen on television vs. teen life in reality: We do boring things. Not fun, exciting things. Boring, boring, boring. We hang out in malls trying to trip each other and laugh. We spend hours at Quiznos avoiding going home. We spend beautiful Saturday afternoons watching television shows about other people doing stuff. You know why? BECAUSE WE ARE KIDS. It’s kind of hard for us to do fun things because we don’t have any money or street savvy. Nothing is epic. No emotional indie ballad plays during some pivotal climax scene while we run in slow motion through hospital doors or across a football field. Kids don’t stand stoically against an eerie backdrop of blue-and-red police lights as they watch their hot girlfriend OD on the street.
It’s a perspective that is reflected by the events of Holly’s sophomore year, and it’s a statement that will ring true for many readers in the book’s target demographic. That said, while the day-in-the-life storyline is more realistic than many, I suspect that the majority of readers will find the resolution of Holly’s story—such as it is—pretty anticlimactic. I know I did: On the one hand, I appreciated the realism, but on the other, it’s somewhat disappointing when a Pretty in Pink-loving heroine doesn’t wind up smooching Blane OR Ducky*.
*It’s likely that there is smooching in Holly’s future, yes—and no, I’m not saying with who—but unless there’s a sequel, WE won’t get to witness it.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while re-watching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.