The Field Guide to the North American Teenager

Norris Kaplan arrives in Austin TX on a blazing hot day with his mother, a Creole/Patois linguist who has just accepted a tenure-track position at the University of Texas after months and months of applying for jobs all over the place. Although he realizes how fortunate his mom is to get this opportunity, he still wishes he hadn’t had to move away from his best friend, his hockey team and the life he’d had in Canada. His father, having divorced his mom a few years earlier, lives in Montreal with his new wife and baby and rarely has any communication with his teenage son. Norris lands in Texas and immediately starts talking to his mom about his plans to go home at winter break.

High school life is pretty much what he expects from the American movies he’s seen, with cheerleaders and athletes at the top rung of the social ladder and nonconformists–both in appearance and mannerisms–filling in the lower ranks. He starts his first day by making sarcastic comments and acting like he’s totally disinterested in making friends. He spends his midday hours (the counselor failed to schedule a noon-time class for him) walking around the huge campus instead of risking an appearance in the school cafeteria and finding nowhere to sit. This continues until eventually he begins to make a few friends around campus. One persuades him to teach ice hockey lessons and then assembles a team with Norris as captain, and another is a cheerleader whose dad hires him as a busboy at the family restaurant. Through these two connections his social life expands. He finds his first girlfriend, he goes to parties, and he better learns how to navigate relationships not only with his peers but also with his mom and dad.

Norris is a smart, funny, likable and totally relatable character that YA readers will love. He’s got a mouth on him, though, and there are a lot of language issues in the book, including fairly frequent religious profanity. Topics covered include racism, divorce, absentee parenting, suicide, teenage drinking, college and career planning, immigration (Canadian, Haitian, Indian), self-actualization, and–most importantly–maturation.

Categories: Art, Asian Culture, Books We Recommend, Bullying, Civil Rights, Controversial YA Topics, Depression, Diversity, Dysfunctional Relationships, Immigrants, Indian-American Culture, LGBTQIA, Mental Health, Navigating through High School, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Parent Conflict, Peer Relationships, Racism, Social Media, Sports Teams, Step-Parenting in YA Fiction

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