I read a lot of YA, but I read very, very little that takes place in high school. Most of it is fantasy (magic school? assassin school? I'm in), and some of it is sci fi, and some is realistic, yes, but it's not about the small, fishbowl universe of high school that seems so incredibly important when you're in the middle of it.
But I picked up Philip Siegel's
The Break-Up Artist from NetGalley anyway. The premise was intriguing--Becca thinks high school relationships are a tool of the social hierarchy ever since her best friend ditched her for a hot boyfriend and a huge jump up the social ladder. She's developed a lucrative business as the anonymous "Break-Up Artist," and will split up any couple in school for $100.
I was hoping for some sharp snark and cynicism, but what I got wasn't that--it was much more rich and complicated. Getting ditched by her best friend, Huxley, three years ago threw Becca off and made her seriously cynical. When her older sister's fiance left her at the altar more recently, it became perfectly clear that love is a joke, and that it's all about social climbing, securing the boring suburban life, "winning" the game. The fact that Becca's current best friend, Val, is desperate for a boyfriend and that her parents seem to be disinterested roommates just seal the deal. So when jilted best friends and jealous exes offer her money to end relationships, Becca feels like she's doing the world a favor.
But when her toughest job offer comes in--break up the school's sweethearts, her former BFF Huxley and captain of the football team Steve--Becca starts to find herself looking at the difference between lies and illusions, including her own.
I have no idea if everyone is going to react to this book the same way I did, but I imagine I'm not the only one out there who was pretty much entirely out of the social scene in high school--dating was not something that had anything to do with me. But more than that, I related to Becca's experience with Huxley. I got ditched by a best friend at the end of middle school (not for a guy, but for more popular friends), and it messed up my sense of friendship and of self-worth for at least a decade after that. Not, like destroyed me--it destroyed me for a few weeks. But I definitely believed that I was not really a good catch as a friend, and that you couldn't really trust your friends to stick around, for a long time after that. I believed that I was someone who cranked through friends and couldn't have long-lasting relationships.
So the fact that Becca has this very messed up view of the world because of what happened to her just really touched me. And the funny thing is, there's a level on which she's not entirely wrong--I mean, high school relationships are for the most part, not about true love forever. They're about learning yourself and making adult connections, hormones and romance and social roles. Sure, there are real people involved, and some people marry their high school sweethearts, but it's not so common that a little cynicism isn't a valid approach to the issue.
But in the crazy swirl of gossip and true love always and PDAs in the hall, can you blame Becca for taking the grain of truth that is "most of this stuff that all these kids are so worried about is bull" and following it way to far to "all these people are deluded and romance is the opiate of the masses?" It's such a natural progression, and such a sensible conclusion reached so wrongly, and such a lot of tough stuff that she's going through that watching her untangle the mess--and watching her own high school hormones lead her into some bad decisions herself--is really, really satisfying.
It's amazing to me that this book exists--a book about teenagers who act like teenagers and make a lot of stupid and cruel decisions, but which makes sense to me as an adult, and is really satisfying on that level. Also, it's a Harlequin Teen book written by a guy, with a female narrator that I find totally believable. This book is a freaking unicorn, people. Thumbs up.