Title:This Above All [on Amazon | on Goodreads] Series:None Author:Lindsey Roth Culli [Site | Goodreads] Genres:Contemporary Year:2016 Age:12+ Stars:3/5 Pros:Original premise. Funny and heartfelt. Likeable main character, with a clear, pleasant voice. Cons:The last third of the book takes a dive into tropes land. Will appeal to:Those who like theater/acting. Those looking for a coming-of-age story.
Blurb:When sixteen-year old Piper is cast as Romeo in her school’s production, she’s as surprised as everyone else. Not only because she’s a girl, but also because she’s from one of the region’s most notorious ultraconservative families. But when the school principal demands that the part be recast “appropriately” or the show cannot go on, Piper faces a choice: become the figurehead to appeal the principal’s decision or accept the message the administration’s ultimatum sends to the school’s gay students, including her new friends. Namely, that they should be ashamed of who they are or whom they happen to love. (Goodreads excerpt)
Review:First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel from Curiosity Quills in exchange for an honest review. To be more precise, I specifically requested a review copy. That didn't affect my opinion and rating in any way. Here goes...
OFF TO A GOOD START
I have a confession to make: I'm a sucker for stories about teens performing (Fame, anyone? I grew up with it, as this post reveals). Also, in this case, a girl cast as the male lead in a school production was a hell of a premise. Especially since Piper comes from an over-religious, ultra-conservative family. But when I started on the book, I found out that TAA was somehow exceeding my expectations. For one thing, we are thrust mid-action (or better, mid-acting), with Piper auditioning for the main female role in Romeo and Juliet, all while her inner monologue gives us enough backstory about her and her family without sounding info-dumpy. I could practically smell stage dust :) - and I took an immediate liking to Piper's voice. Her passion for acting, and Shakespeare in particular, dates back to when her deceased mother read "secular" books to her younger self - books that, of course, are frowned upon (to put it mildly) by Piper's pastor father. The author is able to convincingly shape a character caught between her family's and church's expectations (and the kind of God she's been taught to believe in) on one side, and her consuming passion for all things theater on the other - which, in turn, will lead her to question her whole upbringing and the dogmas surrounding it. [...]
THE BOLD AND THE DUTIFUL
Like I said, for the most part, Culli does a great job with balancing the observant, religious daughter and the questioning, passionate teen in bloom, the socially awkward novice and the resourceful rebel - though I think there are some slips here and there. For example, while Piper isn't allowed a cell phone, she's able to use the church computer to watch theater performances on YouTube. She knows Kenneth Branagh and Idina Menzel, but doesn't have a clue about Baz Luhrmann's version of Romeo and Juliet. She's supposed to have a very strict father, but has managed to sneak out to watch live theater more often than not - and later in the book, is able to go behind her father's back several times. She recoils from talking "about another girl’s body, affections, and sexuality", but doesn't mind using the word "penis" in front of a whole assembly of peers AND adults. And so on. Also, some things seem to come a little too easily and/or a little too soon for her - in the space of a few weeks. Then again, I didn't particularly mind this - I still found Piper to be a believable and likeable character no matter what, and I understood the story needed things to move a little (or a lot) faster than they would probably have done in real life...
SOMETHING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO HEAVEN
So far so good then. Though there IS romance in this book, and even a dose of love triangle - and you all know I'm not the hugest fan of either, to put it mildly - they seemed balanced enough by the M\F friendship and the fresh coming-of-age plot. So, I was enjoying the story and the characters, and going for a 4/5 rating. Until, after the 2/3 mark, something in the book switched. I think the very first alarm bell rang for me during a pivotal scene between Piper and her love interest, which features one of the most worn-out (not to mention preposterous) statements ever: "I don't even realize I'm holding my breath until my lungs start to ache." Picture me rolling my eyes. This was followed shortly after by a few over-the-top twists and out-of-character moments. I'm not necessarily addressing the main plot points here - will Piper get the boy, will her friend Tony be OK, will Piper's father forgive her, will the show go on like they say it always must? - but I can comment that, while a few conflicts come rather out of the blue, they also get resolved every bit as quickly. For such a creative and passionate premise, I was expecting TAA to skip the most obvious tropes and to be more cohesive altogether. However, like I said, the story as a whole was fresh and cute, and I guess that those who like contemporary YA lit and can overlook a few bumps along the way will fall in love with it. Note: I'm sorry to say I also found a number of typos/errors in this book, especially in that infamous last third. I guess that, this being an ARC, they will have been taken care of when TAA comes out. The reason why I'm mentioning the issue at all is that they contributed to estrange me from the story to a certain extent. I might have been a little more lenient with my rating otherwise. For more Contemporary books click here.