ARC Review: Sway by Kat Spears


title:  Sway

author:  Kat Spears

pages: 320

format: Paperback

isbn/asin: 978-1250051431

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 3.5/5 [in the genre] or 6/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  People who love 10 Things I Hate About You and really hard-to-like MCs.  The most hopeless of romantics.  

will i read this author again?:  Yes.  
will i continue the series?:  N/A 
My Ratings Explained

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 EVER lets 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.

the basics
Sway is a wickedly funny, irreverent story of the boy with no heart and the girl who's all heart.  This is not your typical meet-cute romantic comedy.  Try: Boy purposefully bumps into girl in order to vet her interests.  Boy aids other boy in seducing girl.  Boy accidentally feels feelings.  Despite the synopsis, most of the book does not focus on the romance, but rather Jesse "Sway" 's transformation from callous high school mafia lord to less callous high school mafia lord who feels compelled to help disabled children and make nice, overweight, overlooked girls into prom queens.  Another reviewer likened Jesse to John Cusack's "asshole" characters; the comparison explains so much why I loved Jesse's story.  Some readers will balk at his bluntness bordering cruelty.  I enjoyed it.  He's anti-hero extraordinaire, and while he's not an angel by the end, it's clear that he's grown past his personal tragedy into someone worth loving.  While somewhat predictable, certainly a candy book, Sway is a thoroughly enjoyable read.  

plot . 4/5
Liking this book requires the acceptance of a certain conceit: that is, that a high school boy has power and status at slightly unbelievable levels.  It's a little ridiculous.  Jesse deals drugs, hobnobs with club owners who let him drink underage, and even has the principal blackmailed and compliant.  It's a little unbelievable.  But accept the concept, and you're left with an exciting plot.  Spears actually starts you midway through, when Jesse's concern for Bridget smacks him in the face--almost literally--then backtracks to the beginning.  Ken's request is simple: figure out how to get Bridget to date me.  Jesse embarks on a fact-finding mission that's more than he expected.  In pursuit of Bridget, he strikes up a deal with Hiram, a nursing home resident with a dirty mind and suitable cynical outlook.  He befriends disabled children.  He also accidentally becomes the best friend and hero of Pete, Bridget's brother with cerebral palsy.  

Seducing Bridget for Ken actually comes quickly.  It's Jesse's transformation that packs a punch.  Bridget's sheer goodness touches a hidden chord in him, a selflessness that he can't deny no matter how he pretends.  Sway follows Jesse's escapades with Pete and Hiram, his transformation from drug dealer to savior of the trapped, and his poignant confrontation with the tragedy that left him broken.  The ending is a touch too happy, given Jesse's sordid past, but the hopeless romantic in me went a little giddy over it.  And you certainly don't need to believe in everlasting romance to believe that at the end, Jesse is not the same Sway from page 1.  

concept . 4/5
I love modern retellings that are more than just reiterations of the same plot.  Cyrano is also such a compelling story to do it with.  Who doesn't love the idea of a guy helping out another guy with a girl, only to fall in love himself?  Except Sway twists it.  In Cyrano, it's sort of endearing.  His friend is wretched with words and begs Cyrano to help him win his love with his superior writing.  It's sort of noble.  Here, Jesse is basically selling Bridget for money and favors, even though he knows that Ken isn't a great guy.  It's despicable, but Spears avoids writing a dangerously unlikable character by giving Jesse dimensions.  Sure, he manipulates people, but he also befriends outcasts.  I couldn't help but admire his brutal honesty, even when it was cruel, even offensive.  (C.f. conversations with Pete.)  Spears takes a risk with a character that some readers are definitely going to hate, then softens him up without changing who he is.  I admire that.  

characters . 4/5
I was reminded of John Green when it came to characters.  Spears' darlings are less obviously quirky, but they each pack a lot of personality.  I actually loved Jesse.  He's the cynical anti-hero who just doesn't give a crap.  There's very little brooding, because he's managed to distance himself so perfectly from his emotions that when he does have a feeling, it's a slap in the face.  He acknowledges his tragedy but doesn't angst over it; it also clearly defines him in subtle ways that he doesn't even realize.  He just felt real to me, the perfect deeply flawed character who manages to win your affections.  And though he grows by the end of the story, he's certainly no angel.  Bridget was a great foil.  She's almost saintly (a fact that Spears lampshades) with her see-the-good-in-all and charity, but she's far from naive.  She's got a sharp tongue, a quick wit, and a keen BS-detector.  Her determination to befriend Jesse and her recognition that he doesn't want her to makes her incredibly interesting.  

Ken is probably the dullest of the bunch.  He's a bit flat, the meathead bully who plays nice to get the girl.  It's never abundantly clear why he's so set on Bridget.  I'd even accept his obsession as a game or a trophy-quest, but all we're given is, "She's different."  Okay.  Uh huh.  Some side characters like Theresa and the principal are also given short shrift.  However, we're blessedly given gems like Pete, Bridget's little brother with cerebral palsy--and he won't let you forget it.  He's used to being treated differently, even by his well-meaning family, so connecting with Jesse, who wouldn't know political correctness if it slapped him, allows him to view himself as more than just a defect.  His teenage rage and rebellion are totally believable, his insecurities endearing.  Did I also mention that I love Hiram?  Jesse's fake grandfather is cynical and manipulative in his own way, but in the end he's just looking for a friend.  I really wanted more of Carter, Jesse's surprisingly sensitive football player pal, and Joey, his right-hand woman.  Their relationships are the first signs of softness in Jesse, and could have been developed so much more.            

style . 4/5
Spears is brilliantly funny in ways that will shock you.  This book isn't for the sensitive or tender-hearted.  Jesse isn't afraid to be cruel, offensive, or shocking.  He doesn't beat around the bush or hide behind euphemisms.  Spears' language reflects that.  Her prose isn't remarkable, but it's definitely above average.  She eeks the humor from allegedly humorless situations and shines in the wit and banter department.  Some of the exchanges between Jesse and Bridget were absolutely brilliant.  Did I mention I'm a sucker for witty banter?  

mechanics . 3/5
All in all, it's a well done book.  The pacing is pretty spot-on and Spears' decision to focus more on Jesse's growing relationships with others (i.e. Pete, Hiram) than his attraction to Bridget is surprising and perfect.  The fact that Bridget sneaks up on Jesse turns an obvious cliche into something deeper.  There were loose ends, though, that I found a little irritating.  Where did "Sway" come from and why is Jesse so averse to the nickname?  How did Jesse amass his empire?  How does a teenager connect with a paranoid but lovable drug dealer, anyway?  I wanted more consistent themes.  Spears also takes a chance with a lot of discriminatory slurs and unsavory jokes.  They fit perfectly with Jesse's character, and I've never minded really flawed MCs, but I know they'll be triggers for a lot of readers.  

take home message
An irreverent black comedy that turns romantic tropes sideways. Sway is daring and not for the faint of heart, with plenty of snark, deeply flawed characters, and poignantly human moments.  

Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

No comments:

Post a Comment