Charming as a Verb

Okay, let me start with a disclaimer that Ben Philippe is currently my very favorite YA author. Yes, I wish he didn’t sometimes use religious profanity and occasional slang that undoubtedly gives offense to some readers, but he is spot-on in portraying the modern teenager’s dilemmas of transitioning from high school student to self-actualized, responsible adult in the world (or at least one on his/her/their way). In this case, we watch the evolution of Henri (Halti) Haltiwanger, first-generation American son of Haitian parents whose mother has switched from her paralegal profession to that of New York firefighter-in-training and whose father manages a very nice apartment building that provides living space for his small family as a perk of his superintendent job.

As usual for someone in his circumstance, Halti is aware that his parents–his dad, in particular–look to him for a fulfillment of their dream of moving upward in American society. From his earliest memories to now, his senior year, Halti has heard his father talk about his son going to Columbia University. His full-ride scholarship to the elite FATE (Fine Arts Technical Education) Academy appears to be his ticket, and he works hard at classwork, extracurricular activities, and making his presence known among FATE teachers and administrators who may write recommendation letters for him.

On campus he is very popular with other students, noticed and invited to parties, but outside of school he actually associates with few people other than his good friend Ming. Ming, though, has never been invited into his home. In his “free” time, Halti runs the successful Uptown Updogs dog walking service that requires his attention two-three times a day and that helps with household finances. He is driven.

As life happens, someone intervenes to change everything. Fellow apartment dweller and classmate Corinne Troy, with whom Halti has had no interaction the entire time he has lived at the Wyatt, approaches him and blackmails him into helping her with her Princeton application. The teacher who wrote her recommendation letter commented on Corinne’s “intensity” in an unflattering way, and Corinne wants to change that teacher’s perception of her so that the recommendation will be revised. Trying to avert Corinne’s exposure of the real business setup of Uptown Updogs, Halti agrees to tutor Corinne in high school social graces. Thus follows a fast-paced, funny, but honest examination of learning how to navigate through not just the world of high school and college acceptance but also the world of the less economically fortunate, of the immigrant trying to gain a foothold in a world with different values and expectations, of the minority person fighting for equal consideration in all areas of society, and of the individual trying to figure out his own identity, wants and needs. Whew, it’s a lot, and it sounds heavy-handed, doesn’t it? Not so, though. The reader will fly through this book rooting for Halti, Corinne, Ming and all the other characters going along the same path.

Buy this one for your library.

Categories: Art, Asian Culture, Books We Recommend, Bullying, Civil Rights, Differently Abled, Diversity, Fashion, Immigrants, Navigating through High School, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Parent Conflict, Peer Relationships, Political Activism, Racism, Social Media

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