isn't a word I use often to describe books. In Majaland, the word is not even a compliment in that context– it’s almost insulting, really, like calling a guy cute. But there have been a few exceptions along the way, and When It Happens happens to be one of them. It’s just… adorable.
Told from alternating POVs, this is a story about Sara and Tobey’s senior year in high school. They both start the year single, but Sara has a small crush on Dave, the new boy, and Tobey has a huge crush on Sara. The thing is, while Dave has both the looks and the popularity, Tobey spends his time playing chess with his best friend Matt and chokes up every time Sara comes near him. He gets very nervous when she’s watching and often does the craziest, most embarrassing things, like falling UP stairs and dropping all his books at her feet.
Our poor Tobey doesn’t have it easy. Getting a girl to notice him while she’s busy dating the blond-and-popular – especially a girl who’s been shy and withdrawn all her life, but seems to be enjoying being at the center of attention now – is no easy task, that’s for sure. But all those ours of playing chess and strategizing are finally paying off – Tobey is very good at planning ahead and rearranging players in a way that will checkmate the other king.
When It Happens is everything contemporary YA should be. It’s very realistic and it has a set of extremely well-developed characters, the language is straightforward, easy to digest, and used in a way that contributes to characterization. It is Susane Colasanti’s debut novel, first published in 2006, but I never would have guessed that based on the narrative alone. It radiates experience, maturity, but most of all, understanding. She’s not one of those authors who set out to write a young adult novel without any kind of insight into the mind of teens.
Out of the two, Tobey was my favorite. I suppose I have a soft spot for boys who know exactly what they want and how to get it, but are as far from arrogant as they can possibly be. As for Sara, although she made some stupid choices, her behavior was something I’d expect from a shy and withdrawn person who suddenly finds herself in the spotlight. In other words, her actions didn’t strike me as something Colasanti did just to further complicate the plot, but rather as something that came from genuine understanding of both teens and shy people in general.
Alternating POV narration is always a bit risky, in my opinion. It can be very hard to separate voices of two characters with similar backgrounds, but that wasn’t a problem here. This is another point where Colasanti used language to her advantage: she made Sara sound like a girl and Tobey like a boy, and she made it very easy to tell their voices apart.
Truth be told, contemporary YA is never my first choice. Or my second, or my third. But if I do decide to read it, this is exactly the kind of book I want. I recommend it to all my Vanilla Queens. A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher, Scholastic UK, for review purposes.
Also posted at The Nocturnal Library