1. I am not the target audience for this book.
2. Stephanie Morill is a fellow Kansan who lives just up the road from me in Overland Park. We’ve met at a local writer’s forum. She’s a nice person and an excellent writer. Might this sway my objectivity? Perhaps. I’ll try to remain impartial.
3. Me, Just Different is Stephanie’s first published novel, and she’s grown a lot as a writer in the meantime. Two more volumes complete this series, collectively labeled The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt (and an excellent label it is). Two novels in a new series, The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet and The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet, hit bookstores in the past few months.
In Me, Just Different, We meet Skylar Hoyt fresh from near-catastrophe—a party gone horribly wrong and a date-rape averted only by the timely intervention of a friend. Skylar knows she won’t get another second chance. Her life has to change. Now.
It’s easy to say you’re going to wipe the slate clean and make a fresh start. Actually doing it is more complicated, and “complicated” pretty much defines Skylar’s life. Her father’s a workaholic oblivious to Skylar’s plight. Her career-focused mother doesn’t, well, mother, and is barely able to unwrap a frozen entree. Her sister’s experiencing a crisis of her own. Worst of all, Skylar is caught between her affection for two boys: Eli, the strong, comforting guy who’s always there when she needs him, and Connor, the hot-and-cold guy with a thing for telling the truth at all the wrong times, who knows her better than she knows herself.
Remember how I said I’m not the target audience for this story? All this plays out from Skylar’s point-of-view, which I’m sure resonates with teenage girls (and the Amazon reviews bear this out), but it drove me nuts, because the litany of adolescent minutiae about clothes, dances, dates, who’s fighting with who, who’s in or out, and what’s on television quickly became mind-numbing for a parent who’s been through three iterations of teenage self-absorption. I’d nearly finished the book before Skylar sorted out her social calendar and got around to dealing with her real problems.
Yes, life is often like that. I still wanted to figuratively* whack her upside the head and tell her to snap out of it. More than once.
*Note: I do not in any way, shape, or form recommend this as a parenting technique. Just so we’re all clear on that.
This is a Christian story, but it’s not a conversion story. Skylar’s problem isn’t faith, it’s practice. She’s a believer who isn’t living her beliefs. Cutting out smoking, drinking, and partying are commendable, but she finds adopting a more disciplined lifestyle doesn’t solve everything. She knows her problems are somehow connected with her lack of attention to her relationship with God. Skylar gets a gentle nudge in the right direction from her church youth leader, but Morill never absolves Skylar of the responsibility to take action herself. It’s her problem, and nobody else can fix it.
To her credit, Morill doesn’t wrap up a happy resolution for Skylar with a bright pink bow. Skylar hasn’t reinvented her life by story’s end, but she’s working on it. Her family is still dysfunctional and probably will be for a long time, but there’s real hope for change, and I think that’s enough.
Morill also shows real courage charging out of the starting gate with a difficult issue—date-rape and its emotional aftermath. She handles it with fidelity and sensitivity, then rolls in another challenge, again without dispensing rote Sunday School advice.
I was disappointed that Skylar’s Hawaiian heritage was barely mentioned and didn’t have any significant impact on the story. It’s explored in more detail in later volumes, but I think a few cultural references by way of her mother would have helped distinguish Skylar from her posse of middle-class, suburban-KC friends and provided readers a hint of what’s to come. On the other end of the cultural spectrum, I think Morill captured the spirit of teen life in Johnson County, Kansas, and I enjoyed references to some familiar local landmarks like Sheridan’s Frozen Custard. Yum.
All-in-all, Me, Just Different is a good selection for any mid-teen lady reader in your life, a steal at around $4 from your favorite online bookseller in either e-book or paperback. Better yet, buy the whole Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series and stuff stockings with wild abandon. Amazon’s running deals on the Ellie Sweet books right now, too. Why wait?
Stephanie Morill runs Go Teen Writers, an excellent online forum and workshop for aspiring young authors. If you are one or know one, you should check it out at http://www.GoTeenWriters.com
You can also find Stephanie at her author website, http://www.stephaniemorrill.com/