Sunday, October 24, 2021

So, This is Christmas

Andreen, Tracy. So, This is Christmas
October 12th 2021 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Finley is attending a prestigious private school in Connecticut. Boarding there is a way to escape life in Christmas, Oklahoma, where she thinks her opportunities are limited. Even if private school will set her up to attend a good university, life there is lonely and difficult. She was a top notch student in Oklahoma, but just average in terms of prep school students. She decides to go home for Christmas and help out her grandmother at her Hoyden Inn, but things go badly wrong. Her mother is off visiting Finley's aunt, her father is living at the inn, her former best friend is dating her former boyfriend, and an academic rival is working for her grandmother. If all of that isn't enough, Arthur Chakrabarti Watercress (of the British construction equipment international conglomerate Watercresses) a classmate from the private school, has arrived in Christmas with his Aunt Esha to experience a traditional US Christmas. The problem? Finley may have posted some things on the town website that weren't exactly true, and Arthur and his aunt are bound to be disappointed by her deception. She's not fond of Arthur; he is snooty and hangs out with people who are unkind to Finley, but to uphold the honor of her grandmother's inn and the town in general, she needs to make the visitors' experience as good as she can. She embarks on a lot of projects that don't end well; visiting the local reindeer farm, baking cookies, and going to the local parade. Arthur is angry at the deception, but still wants to optimize his aunt's experience, since she has stuck by him when his busy parents have all but abandoned him. Finley has problems of her own, since she is worried that her parents are divorcing and is debating whether she will go back to the boarding school. She also starts to find Arthur rather attractive. The two manage to have a decent enough holiday, but there are some complications. Arthur and his aunt head back to Connecticut, and Finley wonders if she will ever see him again. Will a Christmas miracle, in an unlikely Christmas venue, bring them back together?
Strengths: I haven't watched many Hallmark Christmas movies, but I understand that Andreen has written for many of them. So, This is Christmas seems to have some similarities to these (small town setting, addition of attractive potential suitor from outside the town, Christmas activities, complications, happy ending), but also seemed more complex than the majority of them. This was solidly young adult, and included some facets of teen life that will definitely speak to high school readers; trouble fitting in at school, struggles with academic content, desire to go to a good college and leave one's hometown, parents having marital difficulties, drama with ex-boyfriends and friends. All of these topics make this a great read. The Christmas details are not lacking, and the romance develops fairly naturally. Arthur is a bit formal, but fully embraces the quirky Christmas experience, even if it wasn't what he expected. If this were ever made into a holiday movie, I might even watch it! (Still need to hunt down Suzanne Nelson's You're Bacon Me Crazy!)
Weaknesses: What is a weakness for middle school is a strength for Young Adult audiences. I enjoyed that fact that the plot got a bit complicated at the end with the grandmother coming out as a lesbian. The fact that the storyline with Ayisha ramped up to include the fact that she applied and was accepted to the private school Finley attends, but her mother wouldn't let her go was also a great addition. This shed a lot of light on why Ayisha always seemed irritated with Finley, especially once she started talking about not going back to the school. Both of these subplots added some diversity and interest to the story that was welcome, but also added to the length and complexity. The readers I have who want Christmas stories, however, are often struggling readers who would be happier with just the romance and the mixup about the commercial viability of Christmas, Oklahoma. 
What I really think: I did find it hard to believe that Finley couldn't make a simple batch of Christmas cookies and that Arthur didn't own a parir of jeans, but otherwise thought this was a great Young Adult holiday read. I enjoyed it a lot, but given the length (350+ pages) and the inclusion of several f-bombs, I think I will pass this on to the high school. 

Ms. Yingling

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