Written by:
Kat Spears
Narrated by:
Nick Podehl

Unabridged Audiobook

Release Date
September 2014
6 hours 58 minutes
High school senior Jesse Alderman, or Sway as he's known, could sell hell to a bishop. He also specializes in getting things people want–term papers, a date with the prom queen, fake IDs. It's all business with Jesse. He has few close friends and he never lets emotions get in the way.But when Ken, captain of the football team, leading candidate for homecoming king, and all around jerk, hires Jesse to help him win the heart of the angelic Bridget Smalley, Jesse finds himself feeling all sorts of things. While following Bridget and learning the intimate details of her life, he falls helplessly in love for the very first time. He also finds himself in an accidental friendship with Bridget's younger brother who's belligerent and self-pitying after spending a lifetime dealing with cerebral palsy. Suddenly Jesse is visiting old folks at a nursing home in order to run into Bridget, and offering his time to help the less fortunate, all the while developing a bond with this young man who idolizes him. The tinman really does have a heart after all.A Cyrano De Bergerac story with a modern twist, Sway is told from Jesse's point of view with unapologetic truth and biting humor, his observations about the world around him untempered by empathy or compassion–until Bridget's presence in his life forces him to confront his quiet devastation over a life-changing event a year earlier and maybe, just maybe, feel something, again.
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I'm torn about whether I should write this review. "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." But I am compelled by my appreciation for reviews that give me a sense of whether I should read a book, even if the answer is "No, you shouldn't." Heck, maybe a bad review will even compel me to want to read a book to see if I agree. Okay, here it goes: Sway is dismaying. Set in 2012 or '13 (Jesse is a high school senior and we find out he was born in 1995), you'd expect this book to be a bit progressive, but it shockingly drops the ball on many, many really important topics. Through character experience, the author carelessly and thoughtlessly introduces things like date rape, domestic violence, school shootings, fat shaming/fatphobia, physical and mental differences, suicide, sex, drug use, alcohol abuse, racism, white privilege, sexism, heterosexism, and homophobia, and then completely abandons these topics without any thoughtful or meaningful discussion on the topics. None of them are handled with any type of sensitivity. (One of the few exceptions might be a brief conversation on using "differently abled," contrasted with the main character's frequent use of terms like "retarded," "freak shows," and "mutant." ) Many of the characters are crass, dismissive, and aggressive (including the main character), but their personalities are never explored or cracked open. This book is written in a voice that suggests it's for young adults, but I would not recommend this novel for teenagers because of the thoughtless way it portrays all these heavy topics and the way it plays into stereotypes with no analysis at all. It's important that these topics made their way into YA lit, so the fact that they come up is a plus. But the characters' responses to these heavy topics are tired, stereotypical, and thoughtless. When the main character does confront any of these topics, he does so using deception and violence. This may be farfetched, but while reading this, I imagined the author engaging in an experience like this: - - - Person 1: Wow, all these teen dramas and YA books from the 1980s are terrible. They're full of toxic stereotypes and clichés! Gangs of handsome, violent, heterosexual boys who are trying to sleep with as many girls as possible; beautiful girls who value only money, looks, and exploiting their sexuality; authority figures who are involved in secret plots to undermine the lives of teenagers; drug and alcohol abuse with few consequences; violent bullying and belittling of anyone who is overweight or smart or different in any way; well off, white, privileged characters with little to no interaction with people of color unless it involves violence or superiority . . . I really can't stomach this. I'm so glad people don't write crap like this anymore. Author: Oh they still do, and it still sells. I bet you $ I can go through all these books and films, collect all the cliché story lines and repulsive stereotypes, and cram them into a narrative, and some publisher will buy it and publish it. Person 1: No way. I doubt that. No publisher would feed that fire in the 21st century. Author: You're on. —two years go by— Person 1: Damn, I guess you win the bet. Author: See? Told you. People will buy anything, even if it's just full of the same old toxic crap. - - - That is the only way I can imagine a book like this got published in 2014. It's so cringeworthy that I only finished it to find out if it had any redeeming qualities. It's good qualities are the audio narration (Nick Podehl is reminiscent of Daniel Stern's narration on The Wonder Years), the melodrama (it's like watching a TV soap), the style it's written with (it's a bit like a screenplay, so it's easy to imagine each scene as if it were a film), the music references (the main character has a particular taste in music), and the desire the reader develops to find out whether The Girl finds out that the two boys who are attracted to her are terrible human beings not worth her time, or if she remains deceived and oblivious. Unfortunately, in the end, The Girl does find out the two boys are terrible people, yet she still finds herself attracted to the main character. It's immensely frustrating to accept that the "hero" of the story—the one who "gets The Girl"—is the same guy whose heroics include planting drugs in the locker of a delinquent classmate so he gets sent off to jail ("He's probably better off in there,") and finding a freshman who is desperate to be popular to take over his dangerous drug deals. (Oh, my hero! You've really changed the life of this poor, unpopular boy! Now he'll be the life of the party.) The morals of this story are: deception and violence are the way to solve problems, and even if you're a terrible person, you can still win over The Girl's heart. I don't write this review to suggest I could write something better, or that the author's other books aren't great, or that the author won't publish terrific books in the future. Writing is art, and art is subjective. It takes a lot of time and risk to compose a novel, so I'm uncomfortable with how much I dislike this novel. But, I think readers deserve to know what they're getting into when they pick up this book. I'm curious to know if the author's other books are more thoughtful, or if Sway is representative of their work so far. At any rate, my disdain for Sway won't prevent me from trying out the author's other books, but for me, Sway is a skip.

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