Review by: Ivy
“‘I’m proud of you, Canada,’ Maddie said, watching him, a smile on her face.
‘Because I’m out here, socializing like a real live American boy?’ Norris snorted. ‘If this keeps going, I might buy a Chevy and take it to a levee, whatever that is.’”
Norris Kaplan is a Black Canadian swept into Austin, Texas, a town he assumes will be sweltering, stereotypical, and no match for his clever quips. To cope with the changes he begins a journal, noting every character type at his new school, but his preconceptions keep him from getting too attached. Can Norris drop his tough outer shell to form real relationships, or will he remain an observer to his strange new world?
Norris was a uniquely cynical character, his sass equal parts entertaining and revealing of a deeper character flaw. He wasn’t always a hero, and the surrounding characters kept him in check. The grey area felt right for a teenage character and made The Field Guide to the North American Teenager all the more interesting. I only wish that there had been more change in his emotions over the course of the entire novel.
Another notable aspect of Field Guide was its setting in Austin, my hometown! While this was sometimes cool, mostly it entailed lists of fairly stereotypical details about the city. I think it would have been more interesting if the liberal, hippy side of Austin had been explored in order to combat Norris’ preconceived notions. Also, it was funny that Norris attended “Anderson High,” a real Austin school that the author obviously didn’t know about.
I really appreciated Field Guide’s ending. Without spoiling too much, it was unique by being both rewarding and unsatisfying. The book leading up to the end has felt pretty conventional in writing style, so the stand-out ending made me look at the book in a whole new, more poignant light. I love it when a book surprises me out of nowhere, and this novel definitely did that.
Overall, The Field Guide to the American Teenager was an unexpected win in my book. While the moral of the story wasn’t too unique in the YA field, that made it no less important and heartfelt. The character of Norris Kaplan was fresh, layered, and thoroughly entertaining without being annoying, which is a delicate balance. Rating: four key lime pies/five
For fans of: Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner, Frankly in Love by David Yoon, Burn Book by Regina George
Buy your copy here: https://www.bookpeople.com/book/9780062824127