Monday, September 29, 2014

Sway by Kat Spears

In Kat Spears’s hilarious and often poignant debut, high school senior Jesse Alderman, or "Sway," as he’s known, could sell hell to a bishop. He also specializes in getting things people want---term papers, a date with the prom queen, fake IDs. He has few close friends and he never EVERlets emotions get in the way. For Jesse, life is simply a series of business transactions.

But when Ken Foster, captain of the football team, leading candidate for homecoming king, and all-around jerk, hires Jesse to help him win the heart of the angelic Bridget Smalley, Jesse finds himself feeling all sorts of things. While following Bridget and learning the intimate details of her life, he falls helplessly in love for the very first time. He also finds himself in an accidental friendship with Bridget’s belligerent and self-pitying younger brother who has cerebral palsy. Suddenly, Jesse is visiting old folks at a nursing home in order to run into Bridget, and offering his time to help the less fortunate, all the while developing a bond with this young man who idolizes him. Could the tin man really have a heart after all?

My Thoughts
I knew about 3 pages in that I wasn't going to like this book very much. But I read the whole thing hoping for some kind of redemption. Shouldn't have done that. 

Jesse Alderman, AKA Sway, is the go-to guy. He can get anyone anything and has no morals or emotional attachment to anything so he's fine doing whatever he needs to do to get it done. He also deals drugs, sells fake IDs, hooks up with random girls and associates with the worst sorts of people imaginable. On top of that he's a complete jerk who says gross things about girls all. The. Time. 

So that's the main character. I found it hard to like him. I guess I understood where he was coming from once his life was explained and all but he was just... gross. And then there were a whole bunch of jokes made in poor taste. I mean, lots. I kept flipping to the About the Author blurb at the back of the book to make sure this book was written by a woman because the jokes were guy-jokes. And not very good ones. Disabled kids were referred to as "retarded", there were a few conversations about how much a certain girl would "put out" and there was an entire chapter dedicated to the sexualization of an attractive middle-aged guidance counselor. A woman wrote this. A straight woman who is married to a man and has three kids. I know because I read her bio five times. I just don't understand how a woman could promote or advocate this kind of machismo. It's actually really ironic because a couple of times Spears got up on her soapbox and said something about whatever-it-was she wanted to bash. For example I now know that Kat Spears thought high school parties were extremely lame because of that one paragraph that said so. I also know that Kat Spears wants to promote the idea that fat girls are pretty, too, because of the whole Homecoming Queen storyline. What I want to say is, "Kat Spears, why couldn't you have just written a novel about a chubby girl finding herself instead of a guy who's a really terrible person becoming moderately better because he was attracted to a nice girl?" Writing a book about a guy who talks about girls like they're objects does not exactly promote the idea that guys should act like gentlemen. If the book had ended differently, then maybe I could have argued that the entire novel was a tongue-in-cheek representation of a vile teenage boy that no girl should ever have feelings for. I was hoping that was what was going to happen. But, no. It wasn't. And I'm sad that a woman wrote it to promote these ridiculous ideas.

Bridget is an angel incarnate. She's kind to everyone, beautiful, volunteers with disabled kids and visits her legally insane grandmother in the old folks' home. Honestly she was kind of flat. Other than the one time she cried she was the same all the time. No layers. Pretty boring. But Sway falls for her while selling her off to the bully football captain. Just. Ugh. 

Ken is definitely hateable, but, then, so is just about everyone in this book. Joey was the stereotypical lesbian/loner/best friend who popped in and out of the book as needed to help Jesse out. She provided mild comic relief and was probably the most flesh-out character in the book, oddly enough. Bridget's brother, whose name I can't remember, was mostly likeable except he really wasn't. He was actually a lot like Jesse. Which, if you can't tell from my ranting paragraph up there, is not a good thing. Oh, and when an older kid takes you over to a pot dealer's house the first time you hang out, you should probably take that as a sign that you shouldn't hang out with him. But, of course, the young innocent kid is completely taken with the older bad-boy and gets into more serious stuff than light recreational drug-use. Seriously, Kat Spears? Please tell me you did not just promote illegal recreational drug use in your YA book. That you want young, impressionable kids to read. Really? You have kids! What if your kids read this?!? You want them to grow up to become stoners? I just--I don't get it.

This story could have been cute and fun but instead came across as crass and, if I'm being completely honest, resentful about the whole high school experience. Kat Spears, I am willing to bet you didn't like high school. You weren't in the popular crowd and you liked to invent scenarios in which you would show them all up. Well, I'm sorry to say this book didn't do it. It was petty. I was disappointed. This book advocates teenage drinking, recreational use of illegal drugs, teens having recreational sex, chauvinism, stereotyping, bribery, blackmail and use of violence to achieve ones goals. Classy.

Sexual Content: Moderate (lots of talk about sex but no scenes)
Language: Heavy
Violence: Mild 
Drugs/Alcohol: Heavy

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