Following his parents’ divorce and his mother’s decision to take a job at the University of Texas, black Canadian teen Norris moves to perpetually muggy, burnt sienna-colored Austin, Texas. Leaving behind his ambivalent father and his only friend in Montreal, Norris is catapulted into a typical American public school midway through his junior year, and he finds himself hiding behind sarcasm and surface-level, stereotypical perceptions of everyone he meets. But on prom night, Norris messes up big time, and he realizes it might be time to drop the protective mask and embrace his new life.
Debut author Ben Philippe’s The Field Guide to the North American Teenager mirrors his own experience and paints an authentic portrait of what it’s like to feel like a fish out of water—not only for his protagonist but also for a richly developed cast of supporting characters whose Breakfast Club-style stereotypes fall away to reveal teens who are just trying to find their places in the world. Philippe’s buoyant prose and Norris’ snark allow some of the story’s heavier themes (broken families, depression, race) to feel light, poignant and approachable. And with this undercurrent of messy reality, characters are affected by these issues instead of defined by them.
For contemporary YA fans, this witty look at what we learn about ourselves by observing others will be a fantastic back-to-school read.