All's Fair in Love, War, and High School
I seem to like books about the high school experience, despite having absolutely no desire to go back to my own adolescence. I think I enjoy them for the same reason some people love traditional regencies. Like Regency society, the social caste of high school is also rigid with prescribed rules that are known to everyone no matter what group they belong to, and any deviation leads to potential social catastrophe. Yet almost every book about high school is also a book about identity – about whether that social caste is worth having. All’s Fair in Love, War, and High School is about bestowed identity and chosen identity. It’s about who we are and who we want to be. And it’s a love story with a nice message about growing up and becoming more mature.
Samantha Taylor is a popular cheerleader who, unfortunately, has tanked the SAT. When she learns her test score, she realizes that going to a good college may be beyond her. Her grades are mediocre, and her popularity won’t transfer. She decides the best thing to do would be to display “leadership qualities” by becoming senior class president. So she throws her hat into the ring and runs.
When her longtime nemesis (and ex-boyfriend), Logan Hansen, learns of her plan to win over the school, he scoffs and tell her there’s no way she’ll win. She’s way too snarky and free with the insults. And she never talks to anyone outside of her future supermodel cheerleader friends. Samantha rebuts, and Logan bets her that she can’t go a week without uttering a single insult. If he wins, Samantha has to go out with Logan’s friend, the revolting Doug, and if she wins, Logan has to take her out for lobster and campaign for her. Samantha takes him up on it, and begins the difficult process of holding her tongue. Add to that dilemma an aborted prom date, campaign shenanigans, and a play for a college guy, and you’ve got yourself an interesting story.
In the beginning of the story, Samantha is not unlikable. She’s a bit sharp, a tad too critical, but she’s nowhere near a Cordelia Chase (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) in snobbish hauteur. She isn’t above using and manipulating people to get what she wants, though. Her friends remain fairly underdeveloped as characters. We only see them critiquing other students’ wardrobes and making campaign posters for Samantha. Input on Samantha’s “wicked” past comes primarily from Logan, but since Logan is biased, it’s still unclear how shallow Samantha really is in comparison to others.
What is clear is that Samantha is the date-’em-and-drop-’em type. She’s gone through a lot of boyfriends, looking for Mr. Right, and to her surprise no one has measured up to her high standards.
“I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to find just one ideal guy. I’ve probably read a hundred romances, and every single one of them has my ideal man in it. So they must be out there somewhere: all those tall, handsome, brooding men who exude high doses of testosterone yet, at the same time, can take a woman in their arms and murmur poetry into her ear.”
It’s also clear that Samantha is not above a little poaching when it comes to men. And that she’s blind when it comes to picking out a good one.
The interactions between Samantha and Logan are very enjoyable. He relishes the opportunity to make her mess up and lose their bet, so he’s always on hand to rile her. It’s interesting that he sees her at her worst and yet still likes being around her. The sensuality of this story is minimal, but there is plenty of chemistry between these two.
Many readers do not like books that include a moral, but one of the things I most enjoy about young adult literature is seeing the characters grow and mature and learn from their mistakes. All’s Fair in Love, War, and High School shows Samantha improving herself and learning to be more generous and accepting of others. I don’t think this is a message we can be overexposed to in our hypercritical society. I was happy to watch Samantha overhaul herself and pleased as punch that true love found its way to her as a result. I’m a sucker for a teen romance, and this one hit me just right.