Saturday, July 15, 2023

You Bet Your Heart, by Danielle Parker

Sasha knows how much her mother has sacrificed so she can attend Skyline High and focus on her studies.  And ever since her father died, she's known that the best way to honor his memory is to excel academically.  But what she didn't know is that Ezra, her estranged childhood best friend, is locked in a tie for the highest GPA. That matters because the school gives a $30K scholarship to the Valedictorian and Sasha needs that money to go to school.

While they were once close friends, Sasha has not taken Ezra seriously in some time.  He goofs off and barely makes any effort in his classes.  But now that he knows how close the competition is, he's suddenly a greater threat than ever before -- acing tests, besting Sasha in oral exams, and tricking her into missing classes.  Before things go out of control, the two of them decide to declare a ceasefire and settle the whole matter with a bet:  based on just three major upcoming projects, the winner of at least two of them will take the prize and the loser will blow a future test to ruin their GPA.  This simplifies the competition but takes no heat out of their struggle.

Naturally, this being a YA romance, the two of them fall in love, have a major misunderstanding and falling out, and then reconcile dramatically in the end.

This may be formula but it works well.  Sasha and Ezra have good chemistry and much of the story is spent with them building mutual appreciation.  The book shines when the two kids just focus on each other, but the author seems uncomfortable with the genre, finding a need to force in some profundity with political facts or grand rhetoric.  An artificial and cringeworthy fight between Sasha and her friends mostly shows that even inclusive language can be weaponized in the hands of adolescents.  It's also emblematic of good material that is sabotaged by an agenda.

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