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'Since You Asked' a fresh, funny debut

Read an interview with author Maurene Goo

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's hard for me, at times, to read young adult novels. Whether I'm picking from a list of potential books to volunteer for a review or just browsing the library for personal reading, the books all seem to blend together. A main character who's a rebellious teenager, some sort of supernatural element and a love triangle you can smell coming from a mile away. Yawn.

"Since You Asked ...," the debut novel from Maurene Goo, is exactly what I needed to cleanse my palette from books like the "Twilight" saga or most recently, "The Last Academy" by Anne Applegate. Instead of vampires, ghosts, witches, or even serial killers, "Since You Asked ..." deals with a much more horrifying villain -- high school's social hierarchy.

It follows 15-year-old Holly Kim, a copy editor of the school newspaper who is starting her sophomore year at Bay High. Jokingly, she edits a column from a senior about the thrill of another year of Bay High to express her personal distaste for high school.

Unfortunately, it winds up getting published. Because bad publicity is still publicity and more people are reading and reacting to the paper, Holly gets her own column where she rants and raves during the school year.

Throughout the book, we also get great insight into Holly's life at home. Her relationship with her mother seems strained from the first page, and Goo continues to explore this tension throughout the book. On top of the normal teenage angst we all face growing up (and all writers like to write about it when dealing with teenage characters), Holly also has to face the fact that there's a cultural gap between herself and her parents, who place an importance on traditional Korean values.

The other characters are fun, and Goo does a good job of writing characters who act and speak like normal teenagers, avoiding a huge pitfall most YA authors can't. Holly's friends each have a distinct personality and their own plotlines throughout the novel. Also, the "Letters to the Editors" and "BHS Survey of the Month" sections of the book give the student body a sense of character itself.

This is a genuinely funny book, with one-liners full of snark and wit, and dialogue that oozes sass. Holly's cynical outlook provides hilarious lines. In regards to Valentine's Day, she writes, "Flowers and declarations of love? WE'RE IN HIGH SCHOOL. Nobody really cares about anybody that much -- it's impossible. Our self-absorbed, pimply heads can't really feel that strongly for anyone other than ourselves."

Even the most cynical of teenagers are still teenagers, though. Holly has to deal with romantic feelings that she tries hard to push aside, which prevents her from becoming an unrealistic character.

The book isn't perfect, but it's definitely hard to find anything to complain about. If I do have a bone to pick with it, it's that there's a secret admirer subplot that wrapped up a little to hastily for my taste. Part of me doesn't want to fault it as it's realistically introduced and concluded, but at the same time, it just feels like a quick way to wrap it up and provide a sense of closure.

"Since You Asked ..." should be your go-to summer reading book. If you're a teenager, you'll relate to Holly's high school experience. If you're an adult, you'll find Goo's examination of adolescence too funny to put down. Fans of "Mean Girls" and "Easy A" will feel right at home.


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