Love and Other Theories by Alexis Bass
After freshman year of high school, Aubrey and her three best friends are on to an important reality: high school relationships don’t often last; in fact, given that high school students move on to college and other pursuits, they can’t last. And since this is true, why fall in love and get hurt needlessly?
They have a theory about this and enact a plan for their sophomore through senior years–to live by the girl code that they will never be sniveling, emotionally-wrecked girlfriends whose hearts are broken by the boys they date. They will go out with guys, hook up with guys, have sex with guys. They won’t allow the guys to become too attached to them. If any guys start to get too clingy, they will enact an exit strategy.
What could go wrong?
Well, any reader will guess exactly what can and will go wrong–but that’s part of the fun in YA novels that circle around romantic attachments. The hot new guy in school, Nathan Diggs, ends up in drama class with Aubrey. And while she’s a super smart girl who is headed to an elite university in the fall, she decides to play wild on the day of their meeting. They begin hot and heavy, and, like it or not, Aubrey is head over heels for Nathan. She just can’t say anything to her friends since her feelings break the girl code.
The trouble is, other girls also have the hots for Nathan and are eagerly awaiting their turn for a throw in the backseat of his BMW. Aubrey is constantly mentally checking her emotions, trying to stay cool–she’s also checking which of her best friends might make a move on Nathan. Because with the girl code, she is not allowed to object to her best friends having sex with the same guy that she has had sex with. (OK, yeah, ick.)
Widespread knowledge of the theories and real-life examples of their behavior make Aubrey, Melissa, Danica, and the extraordinarily beautiful Shelby some of the most popular girls in the school. Yet Aubrey can’t help but turn inward to acknowledge her true emotional state–and to question just how much pain the girl code and the theories can actually prevent.
High school housekeeping: The main problem with Love and Other Theories is that it takes so long to arrive at this questioning, especially considering that Aubrey is characterized as super smart. Meanwhile, the four girls are not just free love (well, not love exactly) advocates–they are snarky, petty witches whose main source of entertainment, other than making finely detailed observations about who is giving whom ‘oral’ exams, are 1) ruining the life of a former friend, Chiffon and 2) watching a teen soap opera together. Aubrey comments that she loves her friends because she and they are so “real.” They may be, but everything they talk about and do is trite and mean. It’s very hard to like them the way Aubrey does.
Yet, with Love and Other Theories, there’s a kicker. Once Aubrey allows herself to explore her true feelings and the reality of romantic relationships, the novel becomes excellent. Now the reader can finally see the smart girl that she’s been waiting for. All the pain Aubrey experiences is realistic–so too is the fact that if she hadn’t followed the theories, she would have experienced a good deal of pain anyway. Aubrey’s sense that after high school, life will be entirely different for all of the girls, as well as for the guys they romanced, is spot on. The telling of all of this is wonderful and makes the novel worth the read.
As Love and Other Theories is Alexis Bass’s debut (first) novel, I have no doubt her next will have better pacing, so I am looking forward to reading it because her observations about life are intelligent and important for teens. Meanwhile, I recommend this one to teens who can stick it. I think ‘reluctant’ readers will give up long before the novel comes into itself. (A little digression here: as a high school teacher librarian, I see a lot of teens give up on novels–novels that they claim to like very much–before they arrive at the end, even novels that are very well paced. This worries me. I know this is the subject for another article–something thoughtful on teen readers–but if we believe the research that tells us that the action in novels creates pathways in the brain so that the reader experiences them as if experiencing real life, what does this mean when so many teens give up before the valuable ending? If they only come up with pathways for snarky witchiness?) So–if you start this book, make sure you finish it–and experience the important things that Bass has to say about life, heartbreak, and growing up.
Caveat: As YA fiction becomes more and more edgy, I include fewer warnings in my reviews. However, Love and Other Theories contains lots of drinking, drunkenness, teen sex at parties and in cars (although sex is not described in any detail), nasty jokes about girls and their sex lives, plenty of f-bombs and more. I didn’t find any of it offensive except in that, as I stated, it was often snarky and witchy.
I appreciate the component aspects of these book reviews. The cogent summary followed by analysis of appropriate audiences are both valuable aspects of the information.
Looking forward to that examination of why young readers give up on novels so easily.