Let’s begin with a short and stereotypical quiz about your high school identity:
A. a goody goody
B. a cool kid
A. a virgin
B. a slut (more context about why I chose to use this word below)
A. focused on studying
B. focused on partying
If you answered mostly A’s, you’re a Natalie Sterling. And if you answered mostly B’s, you’re a Spencer Biddle. And in the black and white world of high school, the Natalies look down on the Spencers, and the Spencers, in turn, loathe the Natalies. That’s how teenage social systems work, and if you mess with the system, the system will most definitely mess with you. So when Natalie Sterling, president of the Ross Academy student council and straight-A senior, takes Spencer Biddle, freshman flirt and self-proclaimed “Rosstitute,” under her wing for some lessons on self-respect, it’s no surprise that shizz immediately goes B-A-N-A-N-A-S. As Spencer electrifies the school with her in-your-face, body flaunting ways, Natalie’s desperate need for control pushes away her best friend, Autumn, and inexplicably draws her closer to Connor Hughes, the hottie king of the jocks. With her carefully composed self-image falling apart, Natalie struggles to define her identity with absolutes, only to discover herself in the overlap between black and white.
BFF Charm: Yay!
Natalie, girl, you need to LOOSEN UP. And I say that with incredible affection, because guess what: I was just like you in high school. I was bossy and smart and serious about my future and convinced that there was a right and wrong path, and NO ONE would cause me to stray from my righteous ways. Sure, I was a nice, well-meaning person, and I got awesome grades, but I also JUDGED THE SHIZZ OUT OF EVERYONE. And while my high school self would’ve agreed that going to the local artsy cinema instead of a Saturday kegger makes us far better people than our classmates, my adult self thinks you need a FACE PUNCH to knock that smug superiority outta your brain. Don’t even get me started on the way you treat poor Connor cos GIRL I WILL THROTTLE YOU IF YOU DON’T QUIT WITH THE ICE QUEEN ROUTINE. But again, I say all this with love, because I was you, Natalie Sterling, and I want you to find what took me years to discover: there is happiness in imperfection.
Swoonworthy Scale: 8
LORD HAVE MERCY this book burns me with its hot hot sexy times!!!!! Not only does Vivian play the “experienced dude meets repressed girl” card, she also throws in a heaping spoonful of CLANDESTINE RENDEZVOUS. The tension between Connor and Natalie builds slowly at the beginning, with Connor calling her by her last name (hot!) and Natalie steadfastly ignoring him. But pretty soon, it goes full on potions class with Ron Weasley, cos their smoldering chemistry EXPLODES IN YOUR FACE. The horizontal action is sizzling, but what truly ups the score is the unexpected and nuanced emotional development of their relationship. And did I mention they meet up in a shed in the middle of a Christmas tree farm? HAPPY HOLIDAYS INDEED.
Talky Talk: Straight Up
Siobhan Vivian doesn’t believe in wasting words. The writing in this book is frank and direct, refreshing and authentic. it’s easy to take her style for granted, because she makes it so easy to fly through the pages, but I would be remiss if I didn’t applaud the author for her characters, their individual complexities defying the labels that both the school and even readers may want to apply to them. While it’s obvious that Vivian has an agenda, she’s never at risk of falling into after-school-special territory, because she skillfully crafts a story rather than a message.
Bonus Factor: Feminism
I meant what I wrote at the top of this review. This book should be required reading in high school English classes for both girls AND boys. I lost count of the number of times I fist pumped, which is probably roughly equal to the times I shook my head in disgust at all of the slut shaming. Y’ALL JUST SAY NO TO GIRL ON GIRL CRIME! This book will challenge you to reflect on your own attitudes about female sexuality, and the result is an incredibly self-empowering experience.
Bonus Factor: Christmas Tree Farm
As I mentioned, THERE’S A XMAS TREE FARM IN THIS BOOK! And in addition to being the backdrop for some sexy business, it’s also just super festive and YAY I LOVE CHRISTMAS!
Relationship Status: Sister Suffragette
You know that song from Mary Poppins, where Mrs. Winifred Banks marches around and tells womankind to arise? Well, the feeling I get when I watch that scene is the same way I feel about this book. I adore it! I’m inspired by it! I want to pull on a pair of pants (gasp) and stand shoulder to shoulder with it, crusading for the cause of women! But it’s not all serious business, because, well, have you SEEN Mrs. Banks? She’s kind of ridiculous. This book also made me giggle and SA-WOON and feel exactly like a hormonal, crazy, totally confused teenager. It reminded me of my potential AND my flaws, and it encouraged me to embrace both in order to celebrate exactly the kind of girl I am. Well done, Sister Suffragette!
FTC Full Disclosure: I bought this book with my own damn money, and I received neither cocktails nor money in exchange for this review.