Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sparks, by S.J. Adams

Title:  Sparks
Author:  S.J. Adams
Publisher:  Flux
Year: 2011
Pages:  256
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Themes:  Identity, Belonging, GLBT
Age Range:  8th Grade and Up

Summary:  from Goodreads
Do you feel lost? Confused? Alone? (Circle one): Yes or No. The Church of Blue can help. We are not a cult. $5 for a holy quest is a good deal. Since sixth grade, Debbie Woodlawn has nursed a secret, heart-searing crush on her best friend, Lisa. But all those years of pretending to enjoyFull House reruns and abstinence rallies with Lisa go down the drain when her friend hooks up with Norman, the most boring guy at school. This earth-shattering event makes Debbie decide to do the unthinkable: confess her love to Lisa. And she has to do it tonight--before Lisa and Norman go past "the point of no return." So Debbie embarks on a quest to find Lisa. Guiding the quest are fellow students/detention hall crashers Emma and Tim, the founding (and only) members of the wacky Church of Blue. Three chases, three declarations of love, two heartbreaks, a break-in, and five dollars worth of gas later, Debbie has been fully initiated into Bluedaism--but is there time left to stop Lisa and Norman from going too far?


Adams story of a young girl struggling with her unrequited first love is funny, with a cast of characters that felt very authentic.  Debbie is alternately confused, confident, self-deprecating, and courageous; the mix of emotions felt very much like I remember from my own adolescence.  In a way, that was one of the nice things about the book-even though it deals with a young woman coming to grip with her own feelings towards girls, it shows just how alike the experience is for young people, whether gay or straight.  Of course, Debbie deals with a few things that make her situation unique, but the story is written in such a way that it feels universal.

One of the things I also appreciated about the story was that it didn't demonize the rather conservative Christian values of some of the other main characters.  In fact, it was clear that while Debbie was dealing with her own romance troubles, the "abstinent" kids in the book were also struggling with how to live up to their principles, given all of the urges that overtake us in those years.  While Debbie comes to realize that the world of abstinence only clubs and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes might not be the world for her, Adams doesn't go so far as to suggest that it might not be right for anyone.

Sparks also deals with some of the repercussions of adolescent culture's sometimes rabid insistence that everyone has to fit into a box.  Debbie was a clean cut, feminine girl who happened to like other girls instead of boys.  Her rather effeminate friend Tim is assumed to be gay after a girl he rejected in middle school starts a rumor about him, but he is really in love with his friend and fellow Bluedaite, Emma.  Emma plays the fat, funny, sarcastic girl that everyone thinks she is-until she confesses her love for Tim.  No one is exactly what they seem-not even Lisa, who, it turns out, knew about Debbie's crush on her for years, but stayed her friend anyway.  Overall, I think that high school students will recognize something about themselves in reading this book, and even though Debbie's unrequited love is never, well, requited, the book ends on a positive, hopeful note.

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