by James Ramos
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Publication Date: January 3, 2023
Genres: Young Adult
I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Cameron Carson has a secret. A secret with the power to break apart his friend group.
Cameron Carson, member of the Geeks and Nerds United (GANU) club, has been secretly hooking up with student council president, cheerleader, theater enthusiast, and all-around queen bee Karla Ortega since the summer. The one problem—what was meant to be a summer fling between coffee shop coworkers has now evolved into a clandestine senior-year entanglement, where Karla isn’t intending on blending their friend groups anytime soon, or at all.
Enter Mackenzie Briggs, who isn’t afraid to be herself or wear her heart on her sleeve. When Cameron finds himself unexpectedly bonding with Mackenzie and repeatedly snubbed in public by Karla, he starts to wonder who he can truly consider a friend and who might have the potential to become more…
If you sat with all the nerds in your high school cafeteria, this book is definitely for you. It’s a sweet and funny love letter to to geeks and nerds (especially the anime ones!) about being true to yourself.
Cam hadn’t expected senior year to have so many changes. Mackenzie, who’s new to both the school and the Geek and Nerds United club, spends most of her time dissing him. The fact that she’s the sister to one of the biggest (ex-) jocks in the school doesn’t make him less suspicious. Or maybe that’s because he’s been secretly hooking up with that ex-jock’s ex-girlfriend. Things may have changed between Cam and Karla while working together last summer, but once school starts she’s back to being the student council president and queen bee of The Caravan, the coolest kids in the school. GANU and The Caravan don’t mix, and since the rest of GANU (his best friends Jocelyn and D’Anthony) hate their guts, he can’t even confide in them. As the school year goes on, can Cam find a way to bridge the two worlds?
Cam is delightful! He’s a huge anime fan, the kind who, when he runs into a new situation, applies lessons from Dragon Ball Z. While I was only a casual watcher of DBZ at best, his reliance on Goku as a guide for his behavior was both hilarious and endearing. And let’s be honest, the amount of sympathetic cringing I did at his awkwardness was 100% because I was also That Person in high school.
“This is why Goku will always be my hero,” Mackenzie said as we watched. “This. Despite how carefree or airheaded or just plain stupid he can be, at the end of the day and when push comes to shove, this is who he is, and this is what he fights for. Hands down one of my favorite moments in the entire series. That’s why no other anime character comes close to comparing to Goku.”
While all of Cam’s friends were well-rounded characters, it’s the evolution of Mackenzie and Cam’s relationship that steals the show. While they start out sniping constantly at each other, repeated contact (including a scene where he’s bewildered that he’s enjoying playing Mario Kart with his frenemy) leads to a sort of cease-fire. And from there it’s a short jump to seeing how much they have in common. It’s easy to see where this is going, right?
Cam and Karla’s relationship is the obvious counterpoint. While it would’ve been easy to write Karla as nothing more than a villain who’s cruelly using Cam to get back at her ex, that’s not the path the author takes. What happens is instead a much more nuanced take on high school cliques and how people change. I wasn’t expecting her to be a sympathetic character, but she was.
I also particularly loved the skillful way the book handled consent. In this case, it’s the girl who’s interested in going further, but she respects the guy’s need for more time. That, combined with the Cam’s empathy and the book’s sympathetic choices, make this an enjoyably gentle read. The way Cam is written was wonderful, especially the often humorous way Cam’s thoughts were portrayed. Even in the depths of the most tenuous comparisons (a guy crying over the end of a relationship vs a dying guy begging Goku to avenge them) it never felt like we were laughing at Cam. For this old person, it felt like more of an invitation to remember how end-of-the-world things felt as a teen and how, without the life experience to rely on, media – anime in Cam’s case, books in mine – becomes the way people process the world.
“There’s more to it than that, isn’t there? I mean, there’s a whole class system between them, too. Everything about how their world is set up says they can’t be together. But they make it work, in the end.”
What knocked off half a star for me, though, was that it’s a bit heavy-handed with the parallels. In order to spend more time with Karla and get an in with her crowd, Cam gets the assignment to write about the nitty gritty of the school play. Of course it’s Pride and Prejudice, and of course he initially thinks it’s dry, boring and of course completely void of any sort of lessons that could be applied to, oh, high school life today. There’s a particularly hilarious moment where Cam’s sister (a true P&P aficionado) explains the Hand Flex in detail that I simply loved, but some of the rest of it didn’t work as well for me. Look, I love a good Austen callback as much as anyone else, but the similarities between P&P and Cam’s situation were hammered into our (and Cam’s) face so many times that I lost count. Maybe it’s because I’m old, but hey, give the reader (and Cam) some credit! To me, though, this felt more like a debut writer bobble (while this is the author’s second book I could find, it’s their first that’s tradpub)
Overall, a solid 3.5 stars. While some things didn’t work for me, it still skillfully evoked my geeky high school years. I’ll definitely be looking forward to this author’s next book!
Content notes: View Spoiler »