Dec 122014

Cover for Owen Matthews' How to Win at High School. A black and white photo of a white boy in sunglasses, backwards hat, and hoodie grinning with his arms around two laughing white girls, all outlined in bright teal with the cover in bright salmon in front of them.Kirkus: An enterprising loser hustles his way to ultimate popularity, at a cost. Adam’s older brother, Sam, was a star hockey player in his high school years, and by all rights, his younger brother should have been a high school god. Instead, Sam is paralyzed after a nasty body slam, and Adam is a wannabe in off-brand clothes who can’t score an invite to a single party. Tired of sitting at home playing video games and watching Scarface—the plot of which is handily and self-consciously summarized for readers who haven’t seen it—Adam launches a scheme to make himself useful to the school’s elite, initially by doing homework for pay. As his empire of term papers, booze and fake IDs grows, so does his status. The third-person narrative voice is slick, breezy and highly stylized, littered with hashtags and phrases like “our boy” and “Achievement Unlocked.” Chapters are short—none more than a couple of pages and some only a single line—creating a fast-moving and suspenseful tale. The unquestioned intensity with which the narrative voice despises Adam’s nerdiness and pities Sam for his disability is at first troubling, but it soon becomes clear that these views are Adam’s and that the overall story offers a more complex view. For all its slick hipness, surprisingly substantive.