Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sophomore Undercover by Ben Esch

In this past week, I read two very similar books--and it was completely accidental, which I thought was pretty cool. The first one is this. The second review will be put...sometime.

So, Sophomore Undercover. The main character, Dixie, a wannabe journalist, overhears two boys--one who's a jock--in the locker room bathroom talking and sees, through the space between the door and the stall, one injecting something in the other and throwing the syringe away. Thinking it's drug use, Dixie picks up the syringe from the trash and proceeds to be discovered with said syringe by a school official, who reports him, and the roof catches fire from there. Dixie has a week until his court date, and in that time he has to figure out what's going on. Preliminary findings suggest a team-wide drug scandal, which, to a reporter, is very picquant indeed.

I struggled to understand why I didn't like this book beyond "It's just not for me." There's only so much you can say about a book that rubbed you the wrong way but the problems of which are not exactly accessible to you because there isn't necessarily any; it's your fault, for being the wrong reader. (And writing this down, I realize I could potentially argue there are no bad books, just bad readers for them, but you definitely get the sense from reading some truly crappy crap out there that there are bad books.)

See, with this one I believed it was a halfway thing--half me, half the book. And I thought and thought and thought and even attempted reading it over again to see what the deal is, and you know what? It's something in the essence, between the lines, that is almost intangible.

It's the cocky voice. It was a disaster. (To me to me to me.)

The interesting thing here is that Dixie isn't a pretentious character whatsoever. I get the feeling he's a nice kid. But the way he was written... (And wow, I do realize how awkward this sounds: maybe he was written this way because he is this way? But I honestly felt a divide between the writing and the character the grated on my nerves.) It was like a continuous penis joke, the text--trying to outdo the previous paragraph with wittier expressions and trying-too-hard humor that came off as contrived.

(Oh god I make no sense. Let's try a drawing.)

If I had to illustrate Dixie, it would be a cute, nerdy small freshman with huge, overeager, naïve eyes.

If I had to illustrate the text, it would be a hottie Hollywood starlet with a huge smirk on his face and a demeanor meant only to spite you. (This is called annoying arrogant, not attractive arrogant, by the by.)

And beyond all of this, the plot was weak and self-serving. Self-serving in that the only purpose it served, in my opinion, was as a platform for the aggravating voice. And weak because it took far too many liberties from reality to make itself work, cutting corners to get places, and taking shortcuts to get to the point. And in light of the ending, which of the turns-the-entire-novel-up-to-this-point-obsolete variety, I'm not even sure if it got there.

Then again, as I said, maybe I'm just the wrong reader for this. Quite a few other people liked it... But regardless, D.

Disney-Hyperion | 288 pages | February 24th, 2009 | Ben's website | GoodReads


Steph Su said...

Hahaha, I love the phrase "a continuous penis joke." Oh dear god.

Jen said...

I totally get what you mean though ^_^

Amee said...

I believe Simon Cowell would call it "indulgent nonsense." Lol, I've been watching too much Idol!

Diana Dang said...

Haha, love your illustration there. I heard many great things about this book so now I don't know if I want to pick it up or not lol.

Reader Rabbit said...

Doesn't sound like my kind of thing either!

I actually hadn't heard anything about this book before sooo...I guess I have to go find a positive review to compare?

Regardless, great review!

Steph said...

Yeah, guys, it seems like a bunch of bloggers REALLY liked this one... I'm known to have a somewhat unconventional taste. But, nope, sorry, no cookie--this one wasn't for me.

Ladytink_534 said...

Lol, loved the way you describe this. Wonder what made you pick it up in the first place?

Steph said...

The author seemed nice and he offered the book. His site was funny, although now that I look at it, the humor on his site doesn't translate well to book-form.

But then again, this is REALLY not my area. I'm starting to see books like this--mild mysteries set in high school with prepubescent male protags--are REALLY not my area of enjoyment.

Anonymous said...

I think you are right to point out that there are readers for every (okay, well, most) books. I've heard people talk about this book with lots of excitement, though I haven't read it yet myself.

I think I might be sick of boy YA at the moment.
People are going to throw rotten fruit at me, I'm sure, but I recently read LET IT SNOW and was kind of dumfounded that JG's writing seems to becoming a caricature of itself -- each novel containing lots of psycho babble, love for an unattainable girl, and crazy friends ever-ready with a continuous stream of one-liners (surely there is room for a semi-serious boy out there in sidekick land, isn't there?).

Jodie said...

So you're saying Dixie is like Chuck from Gossip Girl without the sex?

Steph said...

I actually think Chuck's pretty hot in a way I'd never want in a husband or long-standing boyfriend.

So, no.

And it's the narrative more so than Dixie. Dixie's cute. Dixie's Jenny before she goes insane. I'm not sure who the narrative is in GG land, though...

Beth Kephart said...

It's always a relief to discover a book that I don't have to read...

Anonymous said...

I just finished writing a review on this, and I had some of the same thoughts as you especially the pretentious voice.

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