Expected Publication: September 16th, 2014
By: Kat Spears
St. Martin's Griffin
In Kat Spears' 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 EVER lets 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, and 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 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?
So, this book turned around my reading slump in the best of ways. I feel like there has been very little amazing contemporary romance/whatever in my reading so far this year. I actually picked this up expecting absolutely nothing, and the description of this as yet another Cyrano De Bergerac knock-off did nothing to interest me. I got this through the tour site I'm part of on a fleeting whim. Boy am I ever glad that I did! This one is told in first-person, by the main character Jesse, whose sense of humor and choice of language leave a lot to be desired. Not to mention the less than legal activities he is most well known for among the other kids at his school - even the adults come to him asking for favors! The overall tone and balance of emotion and humor reminded me of two of my favorite contemporary reads of last year, Cherry Money Baby and Firecracker.
Jesse "Sway" Alderson is the go-to guy for anything you want: drugs, exam papers, favors of an indeterminate nature and whatever else you want - for a price. So when Ken Foster, the moronic asshole captain of the football team, comes to Jesse asking for help with getting the saintly Bridget Smalley as his girlfriend, Jesse agrees to do it. But following Bridget around and getting to know her causes Jesse to grow a conscience and fall in love. How can he let Bridget be with Ken, knowing the whole thing is a lie? And what effect will all the deceit, growing feelings and new friendships out of random circumstance have on the rest of his life? Can Sway make things right, or will Jesse be stuck cleaning up the biggest mess he's ever made?
Jesse doesn't care to censor himself. He just says whatever pops into his head first, consequences be damned, and I truly admire that! There are a lot of people in his life: his gothy and sarcastic best friend Joey, his distant alcoholic father, Carter from the football team, a drug dealer named Digger, truly scary supplier Skinhead Rob, and his ex-girlfriend Heather. But he never really connects to anyone until he meets cranky Mr. Dunkleman at the old folk's home and uses him as his pretend grandfather. Another nail in the coffin was the shine he takes to Bridget's kid brother Pete, always calling him on his shit and never treating him as disabled because of his condition. He calls Pete retarded to his face! The romance in this was sweet, but this book was more about self-realization than anything. What can we do to fix things, when we realize that our entire life is built around a philosophy that could cause us to lose the one thing we actually want? Another big part of this book is Jesse coming to terms with living again after his mother's death by way of pill overdose. He doesn't know whether to feel everything or nothing at all. I loved that the ending isn't wrapped in a neat little bow, with every loose thread tied up. We never do see whether Pete and Jesse get close again after their blowout. Or the fallout of Skinhead Rob's ultimatum. The open-endedness was nice for a change though. A lot more like real life! I absolutely love this book and if you want to be an emotional yo-yo, you should just pick it up already!
"Why do you call him that?" Pete asked. "Sway?"
"Because he is sway," Carter said simply. Pete looked at me but I just shook my head and turned to stare out the plate glass window at the deserted main street.
"But what does it mean?" Pete asked.
"You never heard of sway?" Carter asked, baffled by Pete's question. "No."
Carter shrugged. "Sway ain't somethin' you can define. A brother who's got sway is the man -- don't have to try to be cool, just ...is. Jesse's as cool as the underside of my pillow. He's so slick, he could convince you that I'm white, have you believin' it like it's gospel."
Carter turned his attention to me as he said, "I thought you were ed-you-catin' this boy."
In the haze between consciousness and oblivion I mumbled crazy shit and started to shake with the cold. Joey covered me with a blanket, then curled up on her narrow bed beside me and held me close as she stroked my hair. Carter sat behind the bend in my legs and they warmed me with the heat from their bodies.
"I wanted to die," I said into my chest, my voice a grunt as I jerked with another shudder of cold. "I want to die."
"I know," Joey said, and shushed me and kissed me on the forehead. "I know. But you can't die. If you die, I'll be all alone."
"Shit," Carter said, and I felt him start to shake with quiet sobs as I drifted into the black.
Neutral Milk Hotel's "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" drifted through the air from Joey's iPod, and I remember thinking how appropriate it would be to die listening to that song.
VERDICT: 5/5 Stars
*I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie. No favors or money were exchanged for this review. This book's expected publication date is September 16th, 2014.*