Defending Taylor by Miranda Kenneally – Review & Giveaway

July 6, 2016 Giveaways (Ended), Reviews 10 ★★★★

Defending Taylor by Miranda Kenneally – Review & GiveawayDefending Taylor by Miranda Kenneally
Series: Hundred Oaks
Also in this series: Catching Jordan
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on 7/5/16
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Sports & Recreation
Pages: 304
Source: NetGalley
My content rating: YA (Characters have sex and it is shown)
My rating:
4 Stars

There are no mistakes in love.

Captain of the soccer team, president of the Debate Club, contender for valedictorian: Taylor's always pushed herself to be perfect. After all, that's what is expected of a senator's daughter. But one impulsive decision-one lie to cover for her boyfriend-and Taylor's kicked out of private school. Everything she's worked so hard for is gone, and now she's starting over at Hundred Oaks High.

Soccer has always been Taylor's escape from the pressures of school and family, but it's hard to fit in and play on a team that used to be her rival. The only person who seems to understand all that she's going through is her older brother's best friend, Ezra. Taylor's had a crush on him for as long as she can remember. But it's hard to trust after having been betrayed. Will Taylor repeat her past mistakes or can she score a fresh start?

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My Take copy3

Kenneally has tackled another tough and timely issue (actually, more than one) in her latest Hundred Oaks book and, as usual, she does so with honesty and  realism. Her characters don’t always act the way we’d like them to, but they’re so relatable that we can understand the choices they make and empathize with them.

The synopsis does a good job describing the book, so I’ll just jump straight into my review!

What Fed My Addiction:

  • The big issue. Taylor has spent her life trying to live up to her parents’ expectations. She’s not unhappy about it, per se – she actually feels like she thrives in a work-all-the-time lifestyle – it’s just that she’s never put a lot of thought into why she makes the choices she does. She is so focused on academic success and long-term goals (that have been more or less given to her by others) that she sometimes resorts to drastic measures to achieve them. That’s where the “big issue” comes in. I don’t feel like I can really reveal what it is without it being a spoiler because the book is more enjoyable when there’s mystery around what exactly happened between Taylor and her boyfriend that got her kicked out of her prestigious boarding school, but I will say that she made a decision that’s more and more common in today’s high schools and universities, so I felt like it was an apt topic for Kenneally to tackle.
  • Not so adrift. When Taylor gets kicked out of school, she feels very adrift – momentarily – but she picks herself back up and immediately starts working on her goals again, knowing that she’s going to have to go about getting them a bit differently than she had planned. Taylor is incredibly frustrated that one moment in her life has the potential to derail her so completely, and she is determined not to give up on any of her dreams and aspirations, even if she has to work harder than ever to achieve them and she has less support from the people around her. This is definitely admirable, but as the book progresses, Taylor starts to realize that maybe she should work toward her own goals rather than the ones she’s been given by default because of her family connections. She slowly starts to realize that academic and even career success isn’t worth it if it comes at the cost of her happiness.
  • Family. Taylor’s family is complicated and realistic. I loved that her father was portrayed as a man who was tough on her but not a “cold political figure” (for some reason, when characters’ parents are in politics, they’re usually shown as these distant or downright cold people – I often think, “Geez, senators are people too – I don’t see why being in politics makes you automatically unaffectionate toward your kids!”). Taylor’s dad was a good, realistic balance. He expected Taylor to make her own way in the world and not rely on his connections, but he also did seem to genuinely care about Taylor – even though he was distant at first because of disappointment in her decisions. The rest of Taylor’s family was equally complex – they were neither super warm and likable or overly distant and stuffy (though her mom was a bit borderline there – she was the least likable of the bunch). They seemed like a real family that sometimes felt frustrated and disappointed with each other, but still always loved each other.
  • Ezra. I can’t talk about the book without at least addressing the love interest – Ezra. He was sweet and kind and urged Taylor to think about herself rather than just what her family wanted for her. There was also a bit of mystery around why Ezra dropped out of school, and it turned out there was an important issue addressed there as well – but again, I don’t want to reveal what it was. I loved Ezra and Taylor together and felt like they complemented each other perfectly.

What Left Me Wanting More:

  • Responsibility. There were times when I felt like Taylor didn’t take enough responsibility for what happened to her. After all, even though she did cover for her boyfriend, she made choices that put her in that situation and wasn’t completely innocent (I wish I could say more than that, but I can’t figure out a way to do it without being spoilery). She also made the choice to cover for her boyfriend (hoping that either her father’s position would save her or that her boyfriend would step in and do the right thing and admit his part in it all). I could definitely understand her bitterness toward her boyfriend for letting things get out of hand, but I couldn’t help but think that she should have taken more responsibility for it too. She made the choice to cover for him – he didn’t ask her to. And then she basically refused to talk to him afterward, so it’s not like they talked through what was happening. Even though we didn’t see his side of things, I would imagine that he was just as confused and blindsided as she was. And since they were supposedly in love, a conversation or two about how it all went down would have been nice.
  • Romance developed a bit too quickly. While I really loved Ezra and Taylor together, they pretty much went from 0-60 in no time at all (both physically and emotionally). I got that they had history, but I would have loved to see a bit more development between them first. This is a personal preference of mine, though, especially when it comes to YA.

Oh, I just realized that I forgot to mention soccer. I’m not a sports girl, so the sports parts of these Hundred Oaks books never stand out for me, but those of you who are will love the role that soccer played in the story and in Taylor’s life. This was another great read – Kenneally has a knack for writing realistic teens, and this book was no exception! I give it 4/5 stars.

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***

Excerpt4

Excerpt from Defending Taylor:

I now understand culture shock: it’s me experiencing Hundred Oaks High for the first time.

A lot of kids go here. Five hundred? A thousand? There are so many I can’t tell. At St. Andrew’s, there were only forty kids in my entire class. We lived on a calm, sprawling, green campus. Walking down the halls of Hundred Oaks feels like last-­minute Christmas shopping at a crowded mall.

Two guys wearing football jerseys are throwing a ball back and forth. It whizzes by my ear. A suspender-­clad male teacher is hanging a poster for the science fair, while a couple is making out against the wall next to the fire alarm. If they move another inch, they’ll set off the sprinklers. At St. Andrew’s, kissing in the hall was an über no-­no. We snuck under the staircase or went out into the woods. Ben and I did that all the time.

Thinking of him makes me stop moving. I shut my eyes. Dating Ben was stupid. Going into the woods with him was stupid. Thinking about what happened makes me so mad, I want to rip that newly hung science fair poster off the wall and tear it apart.

A boy shoves past me, slamming my arm with his backpack. That’s what I get for loitering in the middle of the hallway with my eyes closed. He looks me up and down. “You coming to Rutledge Falls this afternoon?”

“What?”

“Paul Simmons challenged Nolan Chase to a fight. Rutledge Falls. Three o’clock. Don’t tell the cops.”

A fight? Where the hell am I? Westeros?

A girl bumps into my side. “Watch it!” Flashing me a dirty look, she disappears into a classroom with a group of friends, chattering away.

Seeing those girls together reminds me of my best friends, Steph and Madison. Right now, they’re probably gossiping before trig starts. I miss Steph’s cool British accent and Madison’s cheerful laugh.

I take a deep, rattled breath. And then another. I feel trapped, like the time I got locked in my grandpa’s garage and no one found me for an hour and I banged on the windows until my fists turned purple from bruises.

I can’t believe I had to leave my school. My home.

All because I made one stupid decision.

I check my schedule. My first class is calculus 1, the most advanced math course Hundred Oaks offers. Just a week ago, I was taking an advanced calculus quiz at the University of the South. St. Andrew’s is one of the best prep schools in the country, and they offer seniors the opportunity to take courses at the university, which is up the road. Even though I was still in high school, the professors treated me just like a college kid. I was only in the course for two weeks, but still. It was insanely difficult. The truth is, unlike everybody else in my family, I hate math. I have to work at it harder than anything else in my life.

But if I didn’t take college calc, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t get into an Ivy League school. I need to go to a top-tier school because that’s what people in my family do. My father attended Yale, and my sister Jenna is there now. According to Dad, my brother Oliver—­Jenna’s twin—­is a traitor for going to Princeton, but I think Dad respects him for having the balls to make his own decision.

Me?

When Dad called me into his home office last night, he barely looked at me as he pored over my new schedule. The silence was killing me.

“I don’t know how Yale will still consider me if I’m not taking all AP courses,” I said. “Hundred Oaks only offers AP chemistry.”

Dad sighed, took off his glasses, and set down my schedule. “I’m incredibly disappointed in you, Taylor.”

I looked him straight in the eyes. His quiet restraint worried me. I’d never seen him so upset.

But I was upset too. He rarely had time to call me when I was away at school, but he could spare a few minutes to comment on my one screwup? After how hard I’ve always worked?

Over the years, I’ve done hours of homework every night. I had a 4.2 GPA at St. Andrew’s. A 1520 SAT score. I was on track to be valedictorian. I was captain of the soccer team and on the debate team. I did everything I could to show Yale that I worked hard. That I am a unique individual. Because that’s what Yale wants.

But my one misstep has muddied my glowing record.

Dad ended our conversation with a death knell.

“Tee, I gave you all the tools you needed to succeed,” he said. “I’ve paid for your private school education since first grade, and you squandered it by getting kicked out.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, my face burning. “I’m going to keep working hard at Hundred Oaks though.”

“You’re damn right you will.”

My father had me so flustered, I wasn’t thinking straight when I said, “Maybe Yale will still take me because of who I am.”

“You mean because of who I am.” Dad rubbed his eyes. “I’ve always taught you kids the importance of integrity, and the minute you got into trouble, instead of owning it, you called me to bail you out. And now you’re doing it again. Using my name to try to get ahead.”

I hung my head. “I’m sorry, Dad.”

“I love you more than anything, but you have to take responsibility for what you did. You’ll have to figure college out on your own.”

“What does that mean?” I asked slowly.

“It means I’m not lifting a finger. I won’t be calling the alumni association or the school president to put in a good word for you.”

“But didn’t you do that for Jenna and Oliver?” I blurted.

He put his glasses back on. “You need to own up, Tee.”

So here I am, glancing around the unfamiliar halls of Hundred Oaks. The school is neat and orderly, but it doesn’t look completely clean, like no matter how hard you scrub, it still looks old. At least it’s not juvie.

I step into my math class, which is already filled with kids. I choose an empty seat at a wobbly wooden desk and stare out the window at the sunny, seventy-­degree September day. I bet at St. Andrew’s, my world politics teacher is telling my friends, “Gather your books. It’s a beautiful day out. Let’s have class in one of the gardens.”

I check out the problem set on the whiteboard. I could do this level of math years ago…

My former guidance counselor told me that colleges look for trends in our GPA and activities over four years of high school. So that means when colleges see my application, they will see:

I’m taking easier classes;

I’m no longer doing debate;

I’ve lost my soccer captainship this year; and

I was expelled.

I have never simply given up when calculus got a lot tougher or an opponent ran faster than me on the soccer field. So I refuse to believe my entire future is over because of one mistake.

I just need to figure out how to move forward.

About Miranda Kenneally:

MirandaGrowing up in Tennessee, MIRANDA KENNEALLY dreamed of becoming an Atlanta Brave, a country singer (cliché!), or a UN interpreter. Instead she writes and works for the State Department in Washington, D.C., where George W. Bush once used her shoulder as an armrest. Miranda loves Twitter, Star Trek and her husband. Visit mirandakenneally.com

Author Links:
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10 Responses to “Defending Taylor by Miranda Kenneally – Review & Giveaway”

  1. Meghan Stith

    I must admit… I’m a hockey fanatic!! It would be great to see her do a hockey book in the future! Or diving!

    • Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

      Have you read Cate Cameron? She writes a series similar to Miranda Kenneally called Corrigan Falls Raiders that’s based on hockey. I’ve only read one of them so far (the newest one – you don’t have to read them in order), and I really enjoyed it!

  2. Joy // Joyousreads

    I sort of enjoyed some books in this series and since I’m such a sucker for sports and romance, I’m so down for this. Accepting responsibility for your actions is a true sign of a well-developed character, so I don’t know about that part. We’ll see..

    Joy // Joyousreads recently posted: Photo Vomit [28]: Wreck This Journal
    • Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

      I should say that she did take responsibility for some of it. Like, she wasn’t really shiny about her dad not picking up the pieces or anything, and she basically decided she was going to make the best of things and not let this hold her back forever. I just wanted a bit more in that area.

  3. Jen

    I still have yet to read a Miranda Kenneally book but they seem like a lot of fun! I’m definitely interested in what happened and what she did to protect her boyfriend. But I have the same hangup sometimes about when a relationship progresses too fast in the YA world. So thanks for the heads up and I have to check out this series!

  4. Irma J

    I love College/Sport romances and it doesn’t matter wich one is in it 🙂 Maybe baseball?

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