I received this book for free from Balzer + Bray in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe
Published by Balzer & Bray on January 8th, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, YA
Source: Balzer + Bray
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Norris Kaplan is clever, cynical, and quite possibly too smart for his own good. A black French Canadian, he knows from watching American sitcoms that those three things don’t bode well when you are moving to Austin, Texas. Plunked into a new high school and sweating a ridiculous amount from the oppressive Texas heat, Norris finds himself cataloging everyone he meets: the Cheerleaders, the Jocks, the Loners, and even the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Making a ton of friends has never been a priority for him, and this way he can at least amuse himself until it’s time to go back to Canada, where he belongs.
Yet, against all odds, those labels soon become actual people to Norris. Be it loner Liam, who makes it his mission to befriend Norris, or Madison the beta cheerleader, who is so nice that it has to be a trap. Not to mention Aarti the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who might, in fact, be a real love interest in the making. He even starts playing actual hockey with these Texans.
But the night of the prom, Norris screws everything up royally. As he tries to pick up the pieces, he realizes it might be time to stop hiding behind his snarky opinions and start living his life—along with the people who have found their way into his heart.
I don’t think this book has actually been pitched this way but when I finished the book, I couldn’t help but think of Mean Girls. The Field Guide to a North American Teenager, while not a perfect fit, read to me, like a gender-swapped Mean Girls.
Norris Kaplan is the new kid in town. Although he feels incredibly out of place, he does somehow immediately capture the attention of several people who are taken in by his snark. He writes in his journal, trying to categorize and group every individual and HS trope-y student he comes across in an attempt to other them and to distance himself. Somehow though, he finds himself mingling with the very cheerleaders and the jocks he loves to snark about. Combined with a new, cute love interest he is doing his best to court, Norris Kaplan, against all odds, ends up fitting into his new high school and having a nice, trope-y high school existence. He also ends up doing several jerk-y things that hurt almost everyone he likes.
Does that not sound pretty much like Mean Girls??? If it doesn’t, its probably because I suck at writing words but the book itself does have that distinct feel, IMHO.
ANYWAY. SO. YES. This book is such a feel-good contemporary and I cannot. I love that we have a black mc navigating the trope-y high school experience in this book and I LOVE Philippe’s twist on those tropes. I especially love the discussion in this book about how being black paints that trope-y experience. This is such a light hearted book but those discussions are still so important and OMG, there is this one scene towards the end that was so beautifully written. I want everyone to read the book so we can scream together about that scene.
Norris, by virtue of occasionally being a self-obsessed dick, isn’t the most likable character in the world. BUT THATS OKAY. He experiences growth and development. He learns from his mistakes and has moments of reflection. Norris is also funny as fuck. Exhibit A:
“You’re very rude for a basic white girl.”
I want that quote on a t-shirt.
I do feel like it is important for me to point out that it seemed like some details regarding the LI (who is Indian) were half-assed? For example, when the Norris enters Aarti’s (the LI’s) house, he first says that “some Hindi language on the television or on the radio.” Hindi is a language? And not all Indian languages are related to Hindi? There are some that don’t share the same alphabet and are also not related to the larger Indo-European language group. Also, Aarti’s family is from West Bengal but they speak Hindi rather than Bengali?? NOT THAT THIS ISN’T POSSIBLE and doesn’t happen but this seemed less intentional and more just a general overlooking of basics. Another weird thing was when Norris was over at the Puri’s, Mrs. Puri assumed that Norris had never heard of Chicken Tikka Masala even though every Indian person knows that that is the one thing every non-Indian associates with Indian cuisine. Also, let me be perfectly clear. I don’t think these issues are a reason to not read the book or even make it inherently problematic (although a little more research would have been nice.) I just wanted to set the record straight so when people do read they book, and they 100% should, they are aware of these things.
MOVING ON. I also wish that this book had been a little less about Norris and involved all the secondary characters a bit more because they are all fabulous. I would have loved more conversations between Norris and his mom, Norris and his new friends, Norris and Eric, etc.
No book is perfect though and even with its imperfections, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager is an absolute delight to read. It is smart, snarky and flips so many tropes on their head which allows the reader to experience them in a new way. While some might claim that by being trope-y, a book will be inherently unoriginal but to those, I say, PICK UP A BOOK THAT EMPLOYS tropes well because The Field Guide to the North American Teenager is a perfect example of a book that is wonderfully trope-y and wonderfully original. Please read it.
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