Friends Don't Let Friends Date Jason
The closest I ever came to reading a teen romance was years ago, when I worked my way through the Beany Malone books. Since then it’s been a steady diet of the grown-up stuff. Thus when I received this book, I really didn’t know what to make of it. Fortunately (in this instance, at least), I have a teenage daughter, so I asked Liz to read it with me and give me her impressions, and we could compare notes.
Before I get to that, here’s a brief synopsis: bright, shy high-school sophomore Marisa Martinez, a committed Christian and part of a group that calls itself the “Flagpole Girls,” can’t believe that one of the studliest Christian boys in her town, Jason, has asked her out. Jason has to be acceptable, since she met him at a “True Love Waits” rally and he’s always talking about walking with the Lord, and for a while, things are fine. But then he starts pressuring Marisa to abandon her friends, to do things his way, to go where he wants to go, and finally, to give in and make love.
Marisa doesn’t know what to do. Her friends don’t really like Jason; at their weekly lunch-and-prayer meetings, they urge her to break it off with him. Her parents would be just as happy if she never saw him again as well, especially after her father catches them necking at a family wedding. Marisa turns to her grandfather for help, but his advice is too cryptic for her to understand right away. It will take a family crisis and a real blow to her sense of morality for Marisa to do the right thing.
I was pleasantly surprised when I finished the book. It was well written, and the dilemma Marisa faced is surely one common to many, many teenage girls. Other characters and storylines from the series are woven into the text, so I got a sense of where Marisa fit into the big picture. Aside from the other Flagpole Girls and their male friends, there are lots of (to me) believable secondary characters: the clique that bedevils Marisa for being such a “goody-goody,” the trio of girls she no longer hangs with, the two women who are her adult mentors. And while there’s no mistaking its unapologetically Christian tone, the book manages to stay just this side of being too preachy. Besides, what mother can argue with a story that urges young women to put off being sexually active?
But I’m a grown-up, right? So what do I know? Here’s where my reality check with my own teenager comes in. I asked Liz a series of questions, about the story, the characters, and the book itself, and here are her responses:
Q: Did you find the book easy to read? Did it move quickly, or were you slowed down in spots?
A: Yes, parts of it were easy to read but when the author made a mistake on words/whole sentences, I had to stop and figure out what she meant. That happened about once every chapter. It was very distracting.
Q: Did you find the story and characters believable? Do you know of girls like this in real life?
A: I found the story believable to an extent. [But Marisa’s] friends were too pushy. She wanted to impress them the whole time, which is not the way I think anyone feels around their friends. She was too easily persuaded, which made me feel sorry for her, therefore keeping me from getting to really know her. I know someone like Toby [one of the Flagpole Girls] in real life. She was self-assured, confident, friendly, and supportive. I found her to be one of the most believable characters in the book.
Q: Did the dialogue sound like the way real teens talk?
A: No. That is all I can say. I can’t explain why, but the only people I know who talk like them are posers. They try to be like other people and sound cool. Everyone in the book said “girl” way too much.
Q: What did you think of the message that people should wait until they’re married to. . .you know?
A: I am sort of pro, sort of anti. I think you should wait until you are mature enough to accept and take responsibility for the consequences of your actions. For a lot of people, that is not until you are married, but some people don’t get married at all. That might be for whatever reason, but they have the right to have sex as long as they know what they are doing. [Mother’s note: Guess I’m going to have to have another talk with the girl!]
Q: Would you recommend this book to a friend?
A: No, my friends look to me for good book recommendations and if I told one of my friends to read this, she would come back, return the book, and never ask for my literary opinion again. I know what my friends like and this would not fit into that category.
Q: Taking all of the above into consideration, on a scale of A to F, how would you grade this book?
A: C – it’s not good, but it’s not bad. It’s average.
I’m going to be a little more generous in my grade than Liz. This is not a book I would have sought out for her, and at times I found the overtly evangelical terminology and tone off-putting, but overall the message is acceptable, and the author accomplishes her goal in solid fashion. I just wonder how many girls in the wider book-reading public, not just the Christian sector, would read it.
I had to smile at the publisher’s “warning” to parents in the front of the book, that the subject matter of the story might not be appropriate for their children. I found nothing anywhere near objectionable in this book. But then, what do I know? I’ve let my kids watch Dawson’s Creek. I can’t imagine any parent of a teenage girl finding this story too intense or realistic.