Allison's Book Bag

Since You Asked by Maureen Goo

Posted on: February 1, 2014

Confession time. I’m forty-something, which means that what I like may not coincide with what teens like. Since You Asked by Maureen Goo had high potential because it’s about a teen writer and books about writers generally resonate me. However, the clichés and stereotypes, the snarky attitude, and the abundance of slang and cursing ultimately turned me off. Adolescent girls will however probably enjoy the rebellious Holly and the romantic twists that develop throughout her last year in high school.

I do love the premise. When fifteen-year-old copy editor Holly Kim unintentionally submits an article that ridicules her peers, she gets her own column in which she is invited to rant freely about teen life. So far so good. I myself wrote for my school newspaper and enjoyed the power it gave me to voice my opinions. But this book is not actually about writing. Holly does not actually have any writing aspirations, nor does she grow as a writer. Instead, her columns are merely a device used to connect a somewhat fragmented story. Moreover, Holly’s initial submission is actually a parody of another writer’s overly positive outlook on the coming school year and so there’s some wit to it, whereas her subsequent submissions are just whiny and negative. While a never-ending cynical tone can be realistic, it becomes just as tiring in Since You Asked as it does in real life. You can see that the premise ultimately fell flat for me.

The wildly-popular Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot also left me with a bad taste, which means obviously what doesn’t work for me might still have high appeal for its intended audience. For example, while I might dislike the trashing of adults in teen novels, Goo’s female audience may like that Holly and her parents constantly clash. If Holly isn’t dishing their conservative Korean standards, she’s rebelling against more typical parental restrictions, such as curfews. While I might weary of the idea that nice people don’t exist in cliques, Goo’s teen audience may appreciate that Holly and her friends feel like rejects. One reason is their unique cultural heritage. But they also hold to different values and interests than their peers. Last, although obscenities have become acceptable in teen media, I remain conservative enough to question their rampant use.

At this point, I should take a step back to admit that as a teen I feel estranged from adults. I also lumped my peers into groups such as the smart ones, athletic ones, and drugged ones. Goo does fine in capturing adolescent life, which is why I have to recognize she may gain a huge teen following. My tastes as a forty-something, however, lie elsewhere.

Before I finish, I should address the cultural diversity to be found in Since You Asked. At times, Holly refers to her Korean background. Unfortunately, it mostly comes up when she vents about her parents, and so has a negative context. Goo does offer one counterbalance, which happens when Holly and her family attend a holiday celebration in Los Angeles. There’s also an incident where she and her friends overhear racial slurs, but that situation rubbed me wrong due to how prejudicial Holly herself acted. Again, Goo does offer one counterbalance, which happens when Holly interviews one of the rich kids she derides and discovers that maybe he does have a heart after all.

Over all, there are more balanced portrayals of the struggles of those with mixed heritage, such as the novels written by Grace Lin. There are also more satisfying tales of high school that appeal to all ages.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

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