Sunday, March 1, 2009

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before

by David Yoo
Hyperion Books
374 pages
Reviewed by Melissa

Albert Kim is a social outcast. He became one on purpose after The Broom Incident his freshman year, soon after he moved to Bern, Massachusetts. He doesn't talk to anyone, he doesn't make eye contact; he essentially floats through the halls of high school, unseen, unnoticed. He likes it this way.

Then, the summer before his junior year, his parents -- over-achieving Asian immigrants that they are -- insist that he not spend the summer lazing about and get a job. He gets one at a local slummy inn, and he meets Mia. She is everything Albert is not: beautiful, popular, assured... and for some reason -- perhaps propelled by the fact that Mia had just broken up with her all-star boyfriend of three years -- they click. They click in a major way, and by the end of the summer are, in Mia's words, "something".
However, that something has to face two things: high school hierarchy, and (even more imposing), Mia's ex-boyfriend, Ryan "The House" Stackhouse, who is diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of the school year. Suddenly, at the very birth of Albert and Mia's relationship, she's dashing off to be Ryan's strength, solace, and help. Albert isn't allowed to be upset -- Mia needs time and space, and Ryan's the town's poster boy-- even though saying he's resentful is the world's biggest understatement. He has a growing suspicion that Ryan's acting needy precisely to steal Mia away from him, except proving that Ryan's scamming everyone is like trying to eat Jell-O with a fork.

It's always refreshing to read a first love story from the male point of view, and this book is no exception. It's simultaneously poignant and hilarious, and Albert as a main character carries the novel squarely on his hunched shoulders. As a reader, you can't help but falling a little in love with him yourself. Yoo takes Albert to a new level of Asian nerdy -- yes, he's smart and driven to do well in school, but mostly he's an outcast that hangs around with the 11-year-olds in his neighborhood. Mia changes some of that; Albert's first day back at school is markedly different from his previous two years: making eye contact, actually speaking during school. He's socially inept (his jokes are hilarious in their non-hilarity), but, because of his relationship with Mia, he's discovered that he wants to snap out of his self-induced coma.

And the results are worth reading about.

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