This book made me laugh. A lot. But no amount of laughter could have made me overlook how much I hated the characters.
Book CWs: For a list of content/trigger warnings, tropes, and representation found in this book, check out its page on BookTriggerWarnings.com!
Premise (from Goodreads)
Norris Kaplan is clever, cynical, and quite possibly too smart for his own good. A black French Canadian, he knows from watching American sitcoms that those three things don’t bode well when you are moving to Austin, Texas. Plunked into a new high school and sweating a ridiculous amount from the oppressive Texas heat, Norris finds himself cataloging everyone he meets: the Cheerleaders, the Jocks, the Loners, and even the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Making a ton of friends has never been a priority for him, and this way he can at least amuse himself until it’s time to go back to Canada, where he belongs.
Yet, against all odds, those labels soon become actual people to Norris. Be it loner Liam, who makes it his mission to befriend Norris, or Madison the beta cheerleader, who is so nice that it has to be a trap. Not to mention Aarti the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who might, in fact, be a real love interest in the making. He even starts playing actual hockey with these Texans.
But the night of the prom, Norris screws everything up royally. As he tries to pick up the pieces, he realizes it might be time to stop hiding behind his snarky opinions and start living his life—along with the people who have found their way into his heart.
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Review (No Spoilers)
I am predicting right now that this is going to end up more of a rant than a review so fair warning!
The Field Guide to the North American Teenager was a book that I was actually really excited to pick up, and when the first few chapters already had me in tears laughing, I was convinced that this was going to be a pretty great read. But once I got to the heart of the story, I realized this wasn’t going to be the book for me.
Let me backtrack a bit and give you some background information for why I wanted to read this book.
The main character of The Field Guide to the North American Teenager is Norris Kaplan, a Black French-Canadian who has just moved to Texas with his single mother. Having grown up in Canada his entire life, Norris is forced to try and assimilate with a culture that he finds very different from his own.
Now if you know a bit about me and my partner, Rob, you’d know that Rob is French-Canadian and I’m Black, so when Rob told me what this book was about, I was curious to see how much he and I would relate to the main character. Unfortunately, this is where the book fell flat. I absolutely hated Norris.
Norris spends almost the entire book being completely judgmental and extremely negative. He goes around complaining that everyone’s rude (and racist–though there is some truth to that) for not befriending him, all while nitpicking and criticizing everyone around him. I let this slide at the beginning of the book because I figured that him being a hypocrite was the whole point of this story–to show a teenager growing up and learning from past mistakes–but by the end of the book, I still wasn’t happy with who Norris had become. I felt like he hadn’t really changed all that much and was still, at his core, a terrible person.
If you’ve read some of my past reviews about books with unlikable characters, you know that if I can’t stand the main character, the entire book falls apart for me. I kept trying to look past my hatred of Norris to find the highlights of the book–like Ben Philippe’s sense of humor and how Liam’s character was an amazing inclusion to the narrative–but in trying to do this, I realized that it wasn’t just Norris I hated. Looking back at everyone in this book, main and side characters alike, I felt as if no one made it out of this book untouched by the demon of toxic personality traits. Everyone was, at some point, unnecessarily horrible to another person.
I read The Field Guide to the North American Teenager almost exactly a month ago and even though a month has passed, I still don’t really know how to feel about this book. I think it had an important message it wanted to tell, but somehow managed to not really accomplish that task. Considering how much I loved the snippets of French Canadian culture/life as well as Ben Philippe’s sense of humor, I definitely think that I’ll have to give this author another go. Not every book is going to vibe with every reader. I just have to accept this one as a loss and move forward.