Sunday, February 07, 2021

Hot British Boyfriend, The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S.

Boyce, Kristy. Hot British Boyfriend
February 9th 2021 by HarperTeen
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ellie lives in Washington D.C. and attends an elite school, even though the tuition is a stretch for her single mother. She and her friend Crystal work at a smoothie shop, and Ellie is super excited to be going to the birthday party of Andy, a schoolmate and customer on whom she has a big crush. She thinks that he feels the same way, so when he starts a big announcement, she assumes it is directed at her. She is wrong, and the resultant social fallout is cruel. Through some parental sleight of hand, she manages (at some cost, partly borne by her long absent father) to get enrolled in a study abroad program. Her mother is a huge Anglophile, and is glad she is able to send Ellie. Ellie just wants to get away from school, since she's  not that invested in any friends there, she also loves England, and the idea of a "hot British boyfriend" makes up for her embarrassment. She's a little alarmed that the other students from her school are all very driven honors students. Her roommate, Sage, is involved in research work in London, and Ellie is taking the easiest courses she can find, so she can experience life in the UK. During an outing to a nearby town with Dev and Huan, she meets Will and his friend Frank. Will is every swoonworthy thing Ellie ever imagined. He's a few years older, isn't in school, but is working in real estate for his very wealthy father. He finds Ellie charming, and is soon whisking her away from school to see the sights. Dev is a bit concerned, but since Huan is interested in Frank (and vice versa), she gets help from her friends in maintaining the relationship. This makes school work even more difficult, and also involves Ellie learning a lot about cricket and other things she doesn't really care about, but is willing to cultivate to insure that Will remains interested. Dev helps with her school work as well as her cricket knowledge. The US students are given a lot of freedom, and soon Ellie is meeting Will in London, and even plans a trip with her friends to Venice. Will and Frank plan to meet the school group there, and there is some discussion about whether Will and Ellie will use the opportunity to take their relationship to the next level. Ellie is somewhat relieved when Will's father won't let him come, but her apprehension returns when Will starts to talk about studying in the States. He's everything she wanted in a boyfriend, so why does she feel more comfortable with Dev?
Strengths: Middle school readers LOVE reading about other people being embarrassed, so the beginning of the book is rather brilliant. The circumstances that lead to Ellie being able to go to the school are a bit contrived, but work. I loved the school itself, and the fact that Ellie was shown trying to keep up with her school work AND make the most of being in England. Ellie is interested in gardening, and it's fun to watch her explore that a little bit with the woman in charge of the conservatory. Will is so intriguing, but also a bit too good to be true, and Ellie's attempts to understand cricket prove that while women have come a long way, there are still some problems with finding equitable relationships. It's good to see her develop one with Dev. Sage is great as the driven roommate, and Frank and Huan's relationship is never discussed as anything unusual or  noteworthy. The travel is, of course, the best part. The cover is brilliant!
Weaknesses: Something about Will set off ALL of my warning bells, and I spent the entire book on the edge of my seat thinking he was a creeper like David in the film An Education! I suppose that feeling adds to the frisson of excitement that Ellie finds with him, but as a mother whose daughter studied in Ireland for a while, it just made me nervous! 
What I really think: I'm always looking for teen romances that are appropriate for middle school readers, and this was good in several regards. There were brief mentions of "having sex" and a discussion of a mother giving her daughter condoms, but nothing graphic. This was an interesting depiction of a girl learning to be on her own and navigate life, and I think this will resonate with my readers who have moved on to high school books and topics. Definitely purchasing, and was tickled to find out that the author lives in my area!

Levithan, David. The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. 
February 2nd 2021 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lucas's brother Aidan disappeared for six days. During that time, the entire town helped look, and the boys' parents (and Lucas) were understandably very upset. Then, just as suddenly, Aidan shows up in the family's attic, a bit dirty and still in his pajamas, but fine. Of course, the police question him and his family repeatedly, and only one story is clear: Aidan traveled into a magical alternate reality, Aveinieu, and only left because it wasn't safe for him to stay. He was befriended by Cordelia, who had been in the world so long that everyone she knew in our realm was dead, and she sort of wished she could have returned earlier. There are not a lot of details about the place, although clearly Aidan loved it there and longs to return. There is a lot of concern and curiosity about the incident, but the boys both want to get back to "normal". When they go back to school, someone on the police force leaks the details of Aidan's description of what happened, and kids at school start taunting him about his time with the "unicorns".  Lucas feels sorry for Aidan, and tries to help him process what happened and his feelings about it at night before they go to sleep. The parents are also supportive, but a bit unsure what the best way forward is. Lucas at first tells his brother to say he was loopy when first interviewed and the details are due to hallucinations, then tells him to lie and say that he ran away to a gaming convention but didn't want to get into trouble. He tells this lie to the police, who don't believe him, and say that the story about Aveinieu was more convincing. The police are very understanding, and since no one kidnapped Aidan and he wasn't injured in any way, the most important thing is that going forward, he seek help and not run away. Aidan eventually gains some peace over being away from the idyllic world, and moves on, getting involved in activities and getting a boyfriend. Lucas still wants to understand what happened to his brother, and has a brief glimpse of the world in the attic. 
Strengths: Children going missing is absolutely terrifying, so the exploration of how one family (and their town) deals with this is interesting. Lucas clearly loves his brother, and the parents and police are very understanding and helpful. Aunt Brandi is briefly described as having been the mother's younger brother growing up, but had long since begun living "as her true female self". It's good to see a transgender character described with correct terms, and be included in a story that was not about her gender identity. The story is a good length, and the pacing and character development is well suited to middle grade. I felt like this disappearance and Aidan's subsequent longing was a metaphor for a larger philosophical issue, but couldn't quite pin it down. I can see this being a "heartprint" book that teachers will use for class discussions. 
Weaknesses: This was very slow moving, and aside from a few descriptions of Aveinieu, wasn't really a fantasy novel. I wished that most of the book would have concentrated on Aidan's experiences in the alternate world instead of covering the aftermath of his disappearance. 
What I really think: The author cites Stead's When You Reach Me as a well done novel evocative of classic tales of magical realism, and set out to create something similar with this book. I can see this being popular with fans of Snyder's Orphan Island or Spinelli's Hokey Pokey. In my library, When You Reach Me only circulates well with students who had a teacher who was passionate about the title and perhaps read it to their class in elementary school, so I will probably pass on purchasing. 

1 comment:

  1. Mysterious Disappearance sounds really interesting. I probably would have liked to have seen more of the magical world too, but I will definitely give this one a try.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction