Author: Owen Matthews
Synopsis: How to Win at High School’s honest portrayal of high school hierarchy is paired with an adrenaline-charged narrative and an over-the-top story line, creating a book that will appeal to guys, girls, and reluctant readers of every stripe. Adam’s rocket ride to the top of the social order and subsequent flameout is both emotionally resonant and laugh-out-loud funny.
Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!
How to Win At High School is not a book I would typical read. In fact, for a YA novel, it’s completely out of my comfort zone. The style is very unique (though I found it a bit awkward at the beginning), and for over five hundred pages, it’s quite the page turner.
Here’s the thing: I get where a lot of the low reviews are coming from for this book. Nothing about this story feels appealing, it’s hard to feel emotionally connected to anyone, Adam is a damn, unlikable tool, and yet for me… I couldn’t stop reading the story. Adam is like a train wreck in slow motion, and it’s like the reader gets a first class ticket on watching it crash and burn. Only, oddly, it doesn’t crash and burn in the way the novel gets you to think it does.
Worse off, outside of Sam, Adam’s disabled brother and Victoria, everyone in this story is pretty horrific. As in downright disgusting and vile people. Fortunately, the book makes no bones about that either, so if you’re curious about this novel, the best thing I can say about it is: enjoy the crappy people in this story, because they are horrid and in a lot of ways karma gets them. While the book is watching Adam’s rise to fame and his fall from grace, it’s impressive how he manages to take so many people on this ride with him, and how many lives he destroys in the process. When it came to Sam and Victoria, I didn’t blame them for having the feelings they did throughout the story. Adam takes them completely for granted, ruining their lives in some aspects, and forgiveness is not possible. In fact, Adam never actually redeems himself at all in the story, which in a lot of ways is both frustrating and intriguing.
One thing that did annoy me with this book: absent adults. There are some adults in this story, all of them are portrayed as if they are as intelligent as a sack of bricks. I really didn’t buy any moment in the story where Adam had exchanges with adults. In a way, I get they are there to eventually be a foil, but it came across really lazy and just felt unnecessary as an addition.
How to Win At High School is one of those books that if you like watching horrible people behave crappy, you’ll like this book. I was pleasantly surprised how much I was engaged with the story, but I can’t say I’d recommend it with any ease either. It was a page turner for me, but I can easily see the style and the lack of character development outside of Adam as being problematic for a lot of readers. There’s interesting ideas and though the story is very predictable, I still felt like I had to watch this slow motion train finally crash. And crash hard.