Cover of How to Win at High School by Owen Matthews. A douchy looking white boy in sunglasses stands with his arms around two pretty girls

About the Book

Title: How to Win at High School
Published: 2015

Cover Story: Douchetastic
Drinking Buddy: At First
Testosterone Level: Scarface
Talky Talk: Pyramid Scheme
Bonus Factors: Popular Little Sister, Diversity?
Bromance Status: That Kid From the Middle School D&D Club Who Now Ignores Me

Cover Story: Douchetastic

Yeah, the douchey looking teen on the cover prevents us from using our imaginations as to what Adam looks like. Plus I feel sorry for the poor model on the left, who gets to be on the cover of a book and has her face blocked out by a big H.

The Deal:

Adam Higgs’s older brother Sam was big in high school. A hockey star in his Canadian prep, Sam ruled the campus. Parties, friends, girls, just his for the taking. But an unfortunate accident on the ice left Sam dependent on a wheelchair. He now works at a donut shop. He lives alone. There’s nothing left for him.

Adam wants the life Sam almost had, but he’s too much of a nerd. Not handsome, not cool, not athletic. But before his junior year his family moves and he starts over at a new school. A rich school (Adam lives in that weird poor neighborhood in the rich zip code). Now’s the chance for Adam to reinvent himself. To rule this school. To be king. To win.

But how?

What do the popular kids want? What could they possibly need from a guy like Adam?

So he starts doing homework for Sara Bryant, the school’s resident goddess. Not for free, he’s not that pathetic. Twenty bucks an assignment, plus a ten dollar bonus for an A. Soon, all the popular kids are hanging around Adam’s locker with wads of cash. His business becomes so popular, he has to subcontract the work out to other lonely nerds. But doing homework isn’t exactly cool.

What if Adam became the booze connection? He uses his homework cash to buy a trunkload of liquor from that weird guy who doesn’t seem to realize he graduated high school six years ago. This makes him very popular when he finally gets invited to a party. He’s no longer a joke. Hot girls flirt with him. The popular guys respect him.

Hey, why not branch out into fake IDs? How about breaking into the school to steal the exam questions? How about providing…pills?

Just how far is Adam willing to go to rule this school?

Drinking Buddy: At First

Two pints of beer cheersing

I liked Adam…at first. We’ve all been there, wishing we could sit at the cool table, that we could be sure that the people laughing weren’t laughing at us, that we weren’t such a dork around girls…

Adam’s plan is impressive at first. The homework scam is creative, no one is getting hurt and he looks out for his employees. He uses his cash to buy presents for Sam. He connects with a girl named Victoria, and soon they’re dating. Victoria likes nerds, and is unaware of Adam’s extracurricular activities. Life is good.

But the more popular Adam gets, the less likeable he is. He ignores Sam, neglects Victoria, bullies his underlings, and wrecks his health.

Hey, maybe some other kid got expelled when he took the wrap for Adam’s crimes, but he would have probably dropped out anyway.

You don’t think I’m paying you enough to do homework? How’d you like to never get invited to another party again?

You got a problem with my business, Victoria? Because I know a lot of other girls who don’t.

Very soon, the power goes to Adam’s head, and it’s not pretty. Not pretty at all.

Testosterone Level: Scarface

Adams’s idol is Tony Montana, aka Scarface. Tony was just a poor Cuban immigrant who eventually became the most powerful drug lord in Miami. And did he get that way by saying ‘enough is enough’? Did he worry about hurting people’s feelings? Did he ever stop?

Before starting his empire, Adam works at Pizza Hut. The popular kids give him the highly original nickname ‘Pizza Man.’ Well, if he can’t get a cool handle, he’s going to make Pizza Man a name to be feared and respected.

Adam will let nothing stop him. If he has to pop pills to keep up with the homework, then he’ll do it. If he has lay the smack down on someone in his way, well that’s what Tony would do. And if people at his school want to buy drugs, then Adam is willing to do that. The local dealer has been the only game in town for too long. Adam is a goddamn winner.

And it’s not like there’s no payoff. Adam’s life is an endless string of parties. Too bad he’s too tired to go. Victoria’s hot for him. He’ll have time for her…soon. Very soon. He buys awesome hockey tickets for Sam…he can find a friend to take him, right? And when a couple of the hottest girls in school drag him into a hotel room after a dance…that’s what it’s all about, right? Right?

Talky Talk: Pyramid Scheme

Now it’s obvious Adam’s empire is going to collapse. He’s simply spread himself too thin. He won’t stop taking on new, riskier, enterprises. One of his homework flunkies quits? He’ll just hire a new guy…sure, he’s the school counselor’s kid, but that won’t be a problem. Okay, Victoria is pissed at him, but he can always trade up. Hey, the local drug dealer has started following him around…but but I’m sure he just wants to talk. It’s all going to be okay.

The second half of this book was kind of like watching a car accident. Entertaining, but…kind of that guilty, too-bad-for-you-schmuck, kind of enjoyment.

Bonus Factor: Popular Little Sister

Katniss looking adoringly at her little sister Prim

So Adam’s little sister, Stephanie, is a freshman. And hot. So she’s popular. Gets invited to parties with no effort. Dates guys who are jerks to Adam. Doesn’t approve of her brother dating her friend Victoria.

And she really doesn’t like it when Adam’s star starts to rise. It’s almost as if she wants to see him fail. Almost.

Bonus Factor: Diversity?

Faces of all different races, ethnicities and genders.

Now this book seems to take place in a Canadian suburb of Detroit, so it’s kind of a given that the student body will be diverse. And it is. But the author doesn’t slam us over the head with that fact. One of Adam’s flunkies, Devon, is probably Black, but Matthews doesn’t feel he has to mention this, let alone over and over again. When things go sour with Victoria, Adam hooks up with mega-hottie Janie Ng. She’s probably Vietnamese, but we’re spared the description of her almond eyes and mocha skin. We get a name and let our mind fill in the blanks. I think this is a nice trend.

Bromance Status: That Kid From the Middle School D&D Club Who Now Ignores Me

I don’t care if you are 500 pages long. Most of  your chapters are only one or two sentences. I knew you back when you were just an ARC, man.

FTC full disclosure: Harper Collins sent me a free copy of this book, which I read when I was supposed to be working. No money, drugs, booze, or pills were offered.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.