A hilarious contemporary realistic YA debut novel about a rather cynical Black French Canadian teen who moves to Austin, Texas, and experiences the clichés and joys of the American high school experience—including falling in love. Perfect for fans of Nicola Yoon and When Dimple Met Rishi.
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…like 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.
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.
Review: The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe
A unique voice, a strong story thread, and a well-developed cast of characters made The Field Guide to a North American Teenager a fun but not fluffy read.
Main character Norris Kaplan is forced to leave his hometown of Montreal (a tragedy for a hockey fan) to move to the boiling hot city of Austin when his mother gets a tenure-track position there. Norris’ wise-cracking mouth and even more sardonic mind are challenged right away by his entry as a student at Anderson High, a huge place that seems like every stereotype he’s ever seen in a movie about American high schools. It’s got the big, dumb, jocky football team and the people who are scared of/worship them; the b-tchy cheerleaders; the drunken house parties, the weirdos and freaks, and, oh yeah, Aarti Puri, the beautiful manic pixie dream girl who catches his eye for being “different.”
To cope, the high school guidance counselor suggests Norris keep a journal. Instead, he starts documenting all of these “specimens” as part of his field guide while wandering the halls during his lunch and free period. Norris quickly realizes, though, that there are people behind the labels, especially Maddie, the “beta” cheerleader who is as smart as Norris is, and helps him get a job at her dad’s barbecue restaurant. While there, Norris and Maddie strike a mutually beneficial deal that will help him land Aarti’s heart. Field Guide is a sorta Cyrano de Bergerac book, but it’s also a book by an author who is definitely aware of what it means to be a black French Canadian in Texas, and how labels can hurt and shape us.
Norris felt maybe a tad too quippy to be a high schooler, but other than that, his lack of understanding and self-awareness – combined with too much of a chip on his shoulder, made him the perfect unlikeable character to go on this journey with. He’s just saucy enough that he’s funny, but also just biting enough that you cringe when he goes too far. I also appreciated that the author, Ben Philippe, gave us a lot of his family life because it goes a long way to making him tolerable when we see where he’s from. His mother is an amazing Haitian firecracker of a woman, and his absentee father is, well, not there, but also there enough in his mind that we know that Norris cares about him.
For me, where the book really sang was in the details of the new places and people Norris meets – whether at the Bone Yard – Maddie’s family’s barbecue restaurant that also delivers key lime pie – or at the weird non-skating rink where Norris teaches his friend Liam to skate.
Field Guide also really worked in developing Norris’ slow appreciation of the roundness of the people he encounters. Maddie is a gem of a human being, ambitious, funny, and smart; while his new friend Liam is weird and zen and wise in just the right way. I also loved that Norris’ best friend back home, Eric, still plays a big part in his life even if he’s not right there. There’s a fullness to the book and to the city of Austin that keeps you from wanting to knock Norris on the back of the head constantly.
Where I wish the book had been stronger had been in the humour. Humour is really hard, and for me, the jokes felt like they only hit every so often. Also, one of my weaknesses is perfect endings, and while I found the ending worked well for the book, it just wasn’t the ending I wanted – so that’s on me.
The Final Word:
Overall, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager was a strong YA contemporary, with woke characters who were a little bone-headed, but came together well. It’s a very good slice of life book, and I appreciated that while I could kind of guess where it was going, it was still a little unpredictable. Great for anyone who likes quirky contemporaries with a lot of details.Slayer Buy It: Indigo.ca | Amazon.com | The Book Depository
From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes a brand-new series set in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that introduces a new Slayer as she grapples with the responsibility of managing her incredible powers that she’s just beginning to understand.
Into every generation a Slayer is born…
Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, are far from normal. It’s hard to be when you grow up at the Watcher’s Academy, which is a bit different from your average boarding school. Here teens are trained as guides for Slayers—girls gifted with supernatural strength to fight the forces of darkness. But while Nina’s mother is a prominent member of the Watcher’s Council, Nina has never embraced the violent Watcher lifestyle. Instead she follows her instincts to heal, carving out a place for herself as the school medic.
Until the day Nina’s life changes forever.
Thanks to Buffy, the famous (and infamous) Slayer that Nina’s father died protecting, Nina is not only the newest Chosen One—she’s the last Slayer, ever. Period.
As Nina hones her skills with her Watcher-in-training, Leo, there’s plenty to keep her occupied: a monster fighting ring, a demon who eats happiness, a shadowy figure that keeps popping up in Nina’s dreams…
But it’s not until bodies start turning up that Nina’s new powers will truly be tested—because someone she loves might be next.
One thing is clear: Being Chosen is easy. Making choices is hard.
Review: Slayer by Kiersten White
A companion novel to Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 8, Slayer details what happens when Athena Jamison-Smythe, daughter of Watchers, becomes the last Slayer to ever be called before magic is destroyed from Earth.
Athena, or Nina, is one of the twin daughters of Merrill Jamison-Smythe, who was Buffy Summers’ first Watcher. Her mother is also a Watcher, and Nina grew up with her sister Artemis learning the traditions and rules of the Watcher’s Council. All of that changed when Buffy came along and broke with the Council, then erased magic. Suddenly, there are thousands of Slayers and demons all trapped on Earth, and no way to get to other dimensions. In the midst of this, the Watchers have been decimated and their families destroyed. So yeah, Nina kind of hates Slayers – and Buffy in particular, for ruining her life.
While Nina and her sister love each other, they’ve been caught in roles that have always defined them: Artemis as the protector of Nina and the one who always belonged as a Watcher-in-training, and Nina as the one who was always weak, shunted to the side, told not to train or get ready to be part of the Council.
When Nina discovers that she’s a Slayer, though, and her mother hid her potential, suddenly the tables are turned. Artemis (who isn’t a Watcher) and Nina don’t know how to deal with this new information, and with Nina being the stronger twin. Nina is dealing with that revelation and a whole host of other emotions when a demons start showing up around the castle where she and the Watchers are hiding out. It’s up to her to figure out how she’s going to save her family and what forces are at play.
I wish I’d liked Slayer more than I did. It’s fast and there’s a ton of plot. Kiersten White did a great job inserting this story into the Buffyverse – there are Easter eggs for fans, and it emulates the fun and silly dialogue that Buffy creator Joss Whedon is known for. I also liked that this story featured the Watchers and a whole different perspective on what happened in Buffy seasons 7 and 8.
That said, I found myself not too invested in Nina or Artemis – in fact, I pretty much hated Artemis through most of the story for her overprotective attitude. I also felt that Nina was kind of whiny and way too angsty during the book. As a huge Buffy fan, I did like how the story unfolded and its emphasis on strong female characters, but overall, it was just okay for me.
There are some cute moments with Nina’s new Watcher, her former crush Leo, but even that felt a bit forced. Everything about this story just felt like it was trying to hit certain beats, and I just couldn’t quite get into the character because of that.
The Final Word:
Slayer is a fast-paced read that’s definitely meant for fans of Buffy only. Yes, you’ll be able to read it as a standalone, but honestly, why would you? There’s way too much backstory for a non-fan, but for fans, it’s fun and different from the primary storyline. I would call this a library read for people who are super into the Buffyverse.
The Field Guide to the North American Teenager and Slayer are both out in bookstores now. Have you read them? Are you planning to read them? Are you a fan of unlikeable protagonists? Are you a fan of Buffy? Let me know in the comments!