I had the opportunity to read a digital-ARC of this debut novel by Riley Redgate in exchange for this review. I enjoyed reading this YA novel about the rumors and scandal swirling around a Kansas high school over a romantic relationship involving a teacher and a student. The story is told from the perspectives of seven students who seem to lead completely different lives at this school, and yet are connected to each other through the unfolding events. I was engaged throughout the novel, grew to care about each of the characters, and eagerly turned pages until I reached the end.
Redgate does a good job of showing us the life of this middle-America high school through the eyes of seven disparate characters, each with their own set of assets and challenges. Each chapter in the book is in the voice of a different character, and the voices are unique to the person narrating: Olivia Scott is an attractive, promiscuous junior. Kat Scott has the lead in the school play and is Olivia's twin sister. Matt Jackson is a bit of a loner who enjoys smoking weed in the school parking lot. Juniper Kipling is a smart, beautiful girl who seems to have it all. Valentine Simmons is an intelligent, but socially awkward boy. Claire Lombardi is close friends with Olivia and Juniper, but has low self-esteem and is constantly comparing herself the them and others. Lucas McCallum is a popular member of the school's swim team and Claire's ex-boyfriend. The development of the story and the interplay between these characters reminds me somewhat of the movie The Breakfast Club , as these teenagers grapple with being true to themselves and others.
The story opens with the staff and students all being called to the auditorium for a special assembly. The principal announces that the administration has received an anonymous tip that "a teacher at Paloma High is having romantic relations with a member of the student body." Immediately people begin to speculate about who the two might be and rumors and jokes run rampant.
As the gossip spreads and the life of a high school continues through a timeline of two weeks, we learn about the relationships and challenges that weave all of these characters together. While I like the way Redgate reveals the plot elements in a way that has the reader discovering and guessing all along the way, I'm not sure that I believe that a high school administrator (Dr. Turner) would handle allegations of an inappropriate relationship between a teacher and a student in this way. While my teaching experience is limited to elementary school, I've worked for a large school district for over seventeen years. I feel pretty certain that when these sorts of allegations are made, a school is going to do everything it can to investigate completely and quietly before making big announcements to an entire school community. Because these types of investigations are tied to the potential for criminal and civil litigation, most of the revelations would be kept under wraps.
I liked the way that Redgate is able to show us the circumstances in these characters' lives that mirror the real problems that so many young people experience. I believe that every reader will be able to recognize themselves in this book and see their story played out in a positive way. Even though some of the problems these characters have seem very difficult, they all wind up coming to a hopeful conclusion. I think that is important, because so many times young people can't see very far beyond their present circumstances.
While this book wouldn't be appropriate for my fifth grade classroom, I do think that it would be a good addition to a high school library. The themes are definitely for mature readers, but I do think the author handles these issues appropriately. Parents and teachers might want to provide guidance for issues such as appropriate teacher/student relationships, sexual promiscuity, depression, substance abuse, and sexual identity. This well-written and well-developed novel could definitely become a very popular book.
Hardcover, 352 pages
Expected publication: March 8th 2016 by Amulet Books