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Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials Hardcover – January 12, 2010
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From School Library Journal
Grade 8–11—Attempting to avoid vicious, former "frenemies" (and their influence), Charlotte Healey starts her high school career in neighboring Harmony Falls, hoping for a clean slate. Things look promising when she makes friends the first day and awkwardly reunites, after three years, with ex-best friend/boy-next-door-turned-crush Will. Unfortunately, people from Charlie's past keep turning up, like Nidhi, former target of the nasty kids at her old school. Charlie and Nidhi reconcile and score a column in the school paper on the freshman experience. Trying to find romance and their niche in the social hierarchy, Charlie and company survive the familiar highs and lows of high school and friendship in a place where traditions, both exclusionary and dangerous, reign. Charlie learns that both sexes are equally capable of cruelty, manipulation, and susceptibility to social pressure, but she's no longer one to keep quiet when the bullies and their enablers need to be taken to task. Wiseman's fiction debut has recognizable situations and archetypes, though Harmony Falls's students and authority figures sometimes come off as stock, superficial, or stereotypical. Fortunately, Charlie proves a flawed, humorous, and perceptive narrator as she matures, standing up for herself and others. There is occasional swearing, some forced dialogue (heavy on the exclamations), and a discussion-worthy ending. While high school can seem "life and death" dramatic, Wiseman reveals the nasty business of bullying and the ugly (sometimes life-threatening) turns that questing for acceptance can take.—Danielle Serra, Cliffside Park Public Library, NJ
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Wiseman’s best-selling nonfiction title for adults, Queen Bees and Wannabees: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence (2002), inspired the movie Mean Girls, but in her first novel for young adults, it’s the guys who behave badly. Charlie can’t wait to leave her middle-school “frenemies” behind and start high school, where she hopes to make “cool, interesting, nonevil, nonvindictive friends.” Her wish is granted on her first day, when she meets smart, supportive Sydney and reconnects with Nidhi, who shared Charlie’s eighth-grade misery. Soon, the inseparable trio widens to include some guys, whose involvement in a disturbing hazing incident sets off a chain of moral dilemmas. Charlie’s narration—filled with IMs and texts—sets a breezy tone and includes some occasional four-letter frankness: “Chicks before Dicks,” declares Sydney. “Never choose a guy over a friend.” But in her realistic portrayal of everyday freshman anxieties, romance, and the sometimes “toolish” culture of male high-school athletes, Wiseman prompts readers to consider vital questions about authentic friendship, personal responsibility, and the slippery roles of bully, bystander, and victim. Grades 7-10. --Gillian Engberg
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Charlie has just started ninth grade and chose to go to Harmony Falls high school instead of her neighborhood high school after her horrible experiences with the mean girls as their used and abused sidekick. New school, clean slate. Unfortunately, as soon as she arrives and joins the school newspaper, she see Nadhi, the very girl whose reputation she sat by and watched her "frenemies" destroy. Lucky for Charlie, Nidhi is willing to forgive Charlie for not stepping in to stop the girls and they strike up a great friendship and partnership for the newspaper. Charlie also lucks out by meeting another girl who is just looking to survive high school, Sydney.
Together, the three make a fairly functional group of young women. They crush on boys, then realize their crushes are actually jerks. They deal with girl drama like the frenemies from Charlie's middle school coming to the homecoming dance and making her feel about an inch tall. They deal with jocks and hazing. There are old friends who return as possible love interests, and there are serious questions about how much the "golden few" in high school (lacrosse team) can really get away with. In all, this is a very realistic portrayal of a girl surviving 9th grade.
The problem was there wasn't much other than daily goings on and the occasional mini-crisis involving a boy disrupting Sydney's power point presentation because she rejected him or Sydney storming into the locker room to humiliate the boy in front of the entire varsity lacrosse team (which then leads to Sydney mocking him constantly, Charlie telling her it was getting to be too much, Sydney getting mad at Charlie, and them having a touching heart to heart where they get their frustrations off their chest). Honestly, I felt like I had spent a week in the girls dorm after finishing this book. And while that isn't a problem, of course, and I appreciate the realistic nature of the story, I was kind of waiting for the real story to emerge. If I wanted simple everyday girl world, I could easily spend a day or so in the girls dorm and get a full dose. When I read a book, I want a real conflict and resolution. This book had the hazing prank gone awry when an innocent man is hurt and the lacrosse players might get away with it, but the conflict wasn't really built up to or developed enough to stand out in the middle of all the other girl drama.
In all, this is a fairly immature book with some interesting characters and not much by way of substance. I think it would be too immature for most high school students, but might be good for the odd mature elementary to middle school student who thinks they are more mature than they really are or has become immersed in social politics. It has enough realistic situations with good, moralistic endings to be both entertaining and educational. The subtle lack of a fully developed plot might also not bother this type of student, as it is the type of book you can pick up and put down without any damage to a running plot. There is some mention of parties and alcohol, but the main characters are never involved directly and are more disdainful than interested in joining. In all, this book was just OK, and I wanted so much more from Ms. Wiseman... Maybe next time?
The school year begins in a fairly promising way. Charlie makes a great new friend at orientation and then funs into her former best friend and neighbor, Will Edwards. Will's parents have just moved back to the area and he'll be attending Harmony Falls, too. Before long, Charlie has a solid group of friends and a spot on the school newspaper.
Charlie's drama-free year is threatened when Will wins a coveted place on the varsity lacrosse team. The upperclassmen on the team are total tools - entitled and seemingly able to get away with anything. Their hazing of Will and the other freshman on the team escalates alarmingly, and Will's acceptance of their actions troubles Charlie more than she lets on. Then Charlie and her friend Sydney witness a hazing incident that clearly crosses the line between prank and dangerous, not to mention criminal. Now Charlie must decide whether she will keep her mouth closed, thus protecting Will and his place on the lacrosse team, of do the right thing and risk losing Will's friendship.
This is not a bad book by any means, but it's not always completely believable. Some of the things I liked about it was that it's clearly written and a quick read, but the author still manages to pack a lot of content into the pages. Typical high school difficulties like worship of the cult of the athlete, sexual harassment and hazing are all dealt with, as are themes like the meaning and value of friendship and courage it takes to stand up for what you believe in. This book is not breaking new ground, but it didn't need to. Most realistic Y.A. fiction touches on some or all of these notions, so a lack of originality wasn't really the problem I had with Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials.
The big problem for me was character development, or the lack thereof. The characters, with a few minor exceptions, never felt very real to me - and some were little more than cardboard cutouts. There is never any difficulty, for instance, in picking out the `bad' boys. From the way they're described they could be comic book villains. Charlie was likable enough, but she too often served as an obvious mouthpiece for points the author felt compelled to make. When it comes to Will, I am really troubled. He's just not very likable and it's not just that he doesn't want to make a big deal about the hazing, it's that you can almost imagine him doing the same things to future freshmen in a year or two, That doesn't make him very endearing. There are some characters that escape being cardboard cutouts meant to represent iconic high school `types.' Michael, Sydney and Nidhi - Charlie's new friends at Harmony Falls - are all interesting and basically good people. Sadly, they are all more real than the main characters, Charlie and Will.
I just finished reading the book and sort of got angry because it was so stereotypical and cleche. It was a typical story if a high school romance intertwined with a dramatic freshman experience.
However I feel like Rosalind Wiseman did an excellent job in capturing the freshman feeling. I am a senior in high school this year and remember my freshman year, I remember that I felt so nervous about being a freshman and being in high school, but I didn't want my experience to be like every high school TV show,or book, which this book reminded me of.
Had a great theme and was written in a fast pace that made me read through and finish the book in a few hours.
I LOVE books that delivers valuable lessons with story telling. Well done Rosalind!
If you are interested in more of these types of books I can strongly recommend the Larva High School series, which is similar.