Published by Macmillan on 9/16/14
Genres: Love & Romance, Social Issues, Special Needs, Young Adult
My content rating: Mature YA (Mature themes and language, talk of sex, etc.)
In Kat Spears’s hilarious and often poignant debut, 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. He has few close friends and he never EVERlets emotions get in the way. For Jesse, life is simply a series of business transactions.
But when Ken Foster, 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 belligerent and self-pitying younger brother who has 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. Could the tin man really 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.
Sway wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be based on the synopsis. It’s not a sweet, light romance – instead the story is much more about how an unsavory main character grows into a different type of person – the type of person who cares. This book definitely won’t be for everyone (Jesse says and does things that would offend just about anyone), but if you stick around to see the person that Jesse turns into, I think you’ll find it worth the ride.
What I LOVED:
- Jesse’s character development. Honestly, it is a mystery to me how Spears managed to make me like Jesse. He is not the best person – he deals drugs, sells people homework, gets people arrested for things they didn’t do, and generally messes with people’s lives. I should have hated him. But Spears made him so darn likable while he did all that – even though he does bad things, he doesn’t come off as a bad person. He’s friendly and witty and open. And he doesn’t seem to revel in the bad things he does – he sees it all as simply providing a service, and he’s not really hurting anyone (in his mind – that is definitely debatable). Because of Jesse’s past, he doesn’t really feel anything, and though he’s incredibly well-liked, it’s only because everyone wants something from him – he doesn’t truly have any friends. But, Jesse changes as the book goes on. He falls in love with Bridget, obviously (you just have to read the synopsis to know that) – but really this book doesn’t seem to be all about the romance (though that’s obviously a big part of it). In fact, the whole Cyrano de Bergerac part of the story is just one little scene where Jesse feeds Ken information about Bridget and tells him some lies to make up to get her to like him. The REAL story is about how the people in Jesse’s life change him. How he learns to feel once he starts to form real relationships with people. One of those people is Bridget, but she’s also a catalyst who brings other people into Jesse’s life (see below). Because of his relationships with these people, Jesse starts to feel – and to act altruistically (something he’d really never even thought of doing before). He starts to change. And that is the real story.
- Secondary characters. I really loved the characters in this book. There’s Joey, who’s the closest thing to a friend that Jesse has. She’s a rebellious girl with a smart mouth, and the pair get along great, but Jesse never really lets her in enough for her to be a true. Then there’s Pete, Bridget’s younger brother who hates being treated like he’s special and finds in Jesse a friend who won’t treat him with kid gloves. And I can’t forget Mr. D, a cantankerous old man who agrees to pretend to be Jesse’s grandpa so that Jesse can get to know Bridget at the old folks home. Mr. D doesn’t let Jesse get away with anything and he ends up being a huge influence on Jesse’s life. There is also a large cornucopia of other random colorful characters, most of whom Jesse works with – these characters all breathed life into the story and really highlighted Jesse’s transformation.
- Definitely not PC. If you are easily offended, you will not like this book. Jesse (and some of the other characters) often say things that are crude, rude or just plain wrong. People with special needs are called retards. Jokes are made about things like rape. Plus, like I said, Jesse is nowhere close to being an upstanding citizen – dealing drugs and helping his friends to get laid by lying and manipulating people are just two of his charming qualities. He is an antihero if there ever was one!
- A bit unbelievable. I couldn’t quite figure out how Jesse managed to basically get anything that anyone ever wanted. There seemed to be no limits to what he could do. I mean, I know he had sway and all, but sometimes it seemed a bit unbelievable. Suspension of disbelief was employed.
- Bridget. Bridget herself was almost a little too good to be true, but that was kind of necessary for Jesse’s character growth – she made him want to be better. Since the book really wasn’t all about the romance, we didn’t see it develop quite as much as I would have liked and I sometimes had a hard time seeing what drew Bridget to Jesse. Still, I enjoyed these two together and wanted to see the romance work out.
So, with an unlikable main character that I actually liked, this book was overall really enjoyable. I give it 4/5 stars.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
About the Author
I am a novelist, bartender, mother of three freeloading kids, non-profit management guru, and, apparently, the only person on the planet who reads in the shower. I am not a role model. My debut YA novel, SWAY, will be released in September 2014 by St. Martin’s Press. Follow playlists for all my characters and the soundtracks to my books on Spotify under katbooks. Some of my characters have better taste in music than others, but if you like the character, chances are you will like their playlist.