Do-Over is the third book in a series about Valerie Winslow, a fifteen-year-old girl living with her father in the fictitious European country of Schwerinborg shortly after her parents’ divorce. Although it’s not vitally important to have read the previous books, it would help to know more about the past story to understand some references that Valerie makes.
When this book opens, Valerie has just returned from a weeklong visit to the States to see her mom and her friends, and is about to have a homework date with her boyfriend, the prince of Schwerinborg. They met because Valerie’s dad works as a protocol consultant for Prince Georg’s parents, the country’s rulers – a position that includes the use of an apartment in the royal palace. The back story is that Valerie and her parents used to live in Virginia, where her dad worked in the White House. She had a close group of friends and enjoyed her life. When her mom came out as a lesbian and divorced Valerie’s dad to live with her new girlfriend during the election year, Valerie’s father was advised to take the position overseas so as not to hurt the president’s approval ratings with a trace of scandal. Because Valerie wasn’t sure how she felt about her mom’s new lifestyle and her girlfriend, she decided to go with her dad, even though that meant leaving her old life behind. Luckily, she was able to attend an English-language school and has made a few friends, including her boyfriend. She has to keep her relationship with Georg low key, but they are able to hang out in the palace, and they get to attend some events together.
On her visit home, Valerie spent some time with a boy she once had a childhood crush on, and is not sure how to tell Georg. She is afraid he will be upset and break up with her. The bulk of Valerie’s emails from her friends encourage her to come clean with him, but it takes her most of the book to do so while her guilt festers. Valerie’s father starts dating a woman who also works for Georg’s parents, and it takes Valerie some time to come to terms with it, even though she’s aware that she’s acting immaturely. Other than that, most of the plot involves day-to-day stuff like decorating for a school dance and doing homework. Georg is a good boyfriend, which is evident when he does something like surprising Valerie with a private Oscar-viewing party, a tradition she used to share with her friends back home.
The book is written in first person, in the present tense and the style is very conversational. It opens in the middle of a scene and is apparently designed to quickly draw you in to the story, but I found it far too chatty. I enjoyed the occasional use of emails between Valerie and her friends, and while that device could have been used to provide a change in tone from the rest of the narrative, it did not. While I certainly don’t expect every book I read to be written in a highbrow tone, this was unnecessarily juvenile, especially for a girl Valerie’s age.
I did like how the discussion of Valerie’s mom is treated, because although it leans toward the flippant, the fact that it’s treated casually implies that it’s not something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. While it would be a pretty big deal in real life, this is not the type of Young Adult “problem novel” that would normally deal with big issues.
Although Valerie is a “typical” American teenager, there wasn’t much characterization. This may be due to the book being part of a series, as the characters are all recurring and are known to the reader by this point.
The book reads quickly, but that’s due more to the brevity of any significant plot rather than it being particularly intriguing. (It’s also very short, with a very large font and a lot of white space on the page. It’s not a lot of book for the price.) There was so little plot that the title doesn’t really make sense. It seems to refer to the tensions that arise between Valerie and Georg, but their relationship is never really in jeopardy. On the other hand, Valerie does have a good sense of humor, and even when she is being immature, she has the self-awareness to know she’s being unfair and she tries to change.
Overall, this is not the kind of YA novel that usually appeals to those of us who like to read them as adults; that is, novels that have well-defined characters and interesting storylines. Do-Over is a book that is specifically directed at the young reader.