Sonia Reppe's Reviews > Ballads of Suburbia

Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert
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's review
Aug 20, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: coming-of-age, midwest
Recommended for: people who did drugs in Scoville Park
Read in August, 2009

I wanted to read this because it's about teenagers in the early 90's in Oak Park, IL, my hometown, where I went to high school in the early 90's so...I thought I would enjoy the references to Oak Park, which I did...and I have to say that was the best thing about the book for me.

Kuehnert's protagonist, Kara, is rebellious, delinquent and does drugs: basically she's messed up. She cuts herself— which Kuehnert admits to doing in her school days— and she hangs out in Scoville park, getting high. I did know people who were just like the protagonist kara. And I appreciate that Kuehnert brings the character to a turn-around, coming clean and dealing with her self-abuse in the end.

But, the book was disappointing for a number of reasons: one, because it did not have the momentum of her first novel. The characters do heroin, and they fall asleep; then they wake up, do more, and fall asleep again; and then they wake up and guess what they do again? I guess this is what happens when you do heroin—I don't know. But it doesn't make for fun reading.

Two, I don't mind reading about sad, heavy, situations and tragic outcomes if it's written in a way that inspires sympathy, but I couldn't sympathize with these characters because most of the narrative reads like a note passed in study hall: It was like, who's spreading rumors about whom, who's "going out" with who, who's mad at who, and then how Kara can't deal with it, so she cuts herself and does harder and harder drugs.
"Maya's eyes danced. 'Christian's been pining for you. Apparently he was worried I'd be upset about it, but I think it's perfect. You're my girl best friend; he's my guy best friend. I told him I'd give you his number and that if you hadn't given up on men, maybe you'd call.'
'What? You're trying to set us up?' I sputtered, horrified. So horrified I was blushing. Had she known I once had a crush on him back when I'd visited Scoville with Stacey?
'Christian's a really sweet guy, Kara.' Maya said, growing serious. 'And you deserve a guy like that after the crap Adrian put you through.'
"Adrian didn't put me through anything. We had a fling and the fling is over," I sapped defensively. It was easier to pretend I hadn't had any real feelings for him. 'And I'm not interested in getting involved with anyone right now, particularly not your ex.'
'I don't even consider Christian my ex. We're friends. That's all we ever were. And I want him to be happy. You guys would make each other happy."

(Just in case you didn't get that, Christian used to like Maya, but Maya couldn't deal with a relationship, so now they're just friends, and Christian likes Kara now. Kara used to go out with Adrian, but he totally dissed her, so Maya wants to set her up with Christian. And just to fill you in, Kara and Christian do start going together, but Kara still likes Adrian, but she also likes Christian. This is too much for her, so she does drugs).

Three, it doesn't give a well-rounded (fair/truthful) glimpse of Oak Park in that time period. All of the characters are the same. They're punks, all into the same scene. They come from the same upper-middle class social-economic background, are mad at life, dye their hair, get high, get drunk, throw up and act like punks (except for the parents who were minor, minor characters) and it got really repetitive. OK, the book is marketed as a "punk ballad," but it opens with a topographical view of Oak Park, and it's based on Kuehner's high school experience—wasn't there more to it than that? Only one scene takes place in the actual high school, in the locker room before the P.E. swimming class. (I got a chuckle recalling the "standard mauve swimming getup" that OPRF HS used to issue out). I was expecting more of a coming-of-age something or other. I don't know—I probably would have enjoyed it more if I had been part of the druggie crowd that hung out at Scoville Park. I would have liked to see more of Oak Park represented.

I like Kuehnert's writing, sometimes. Some would say there were too many characters in this book, and they would be right. Some would criticize that it's written like a YA novel but the content is way too mature for young adults (teenagers) and they would be right, too. It's an MTV book so take it for what you will. Or don't take it at all.
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Aly (Fantasy4eva) Oh wow your thoughts completely differ than mine on the book but so much you said makes sense. Thanks for the great review!

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