Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas's From What I Remember
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Love! Action! Wealth!
Utterly predictable. Completely unbelievable.
Writing team Kramer and Thomas follow up their middle grade novel, Karma Bites, with this big-hearted, wholesome (well, in a modern sense) YA novel.
From What I Remember's charm resides largely in its various viewpoint characters, all teenagers capable of rather impressive empathy (when they choose to use it) and self-awareness. These are kids who are not only smart, they think. and they express themselves with clarity and style. To my mind, that makes them all rather stunning teenage role models (don't tell your kids an adult thinks so!).
The main characters are all seniors at La Jolla's ultra-wealthy Freiburg high school on the eve of graduation. Valedictorian-to-be and general outcast Kylie Flores, a middle-class scholarship student, is taking seriously a last-day-of-school assignment from a particularly ornery teacher, but completing it requires the cooperation of gorgeous BMOC Max Langston, and Max isn't eager to cooperate.
This naturally leads to
Does this sound a bit, well, cinematic? Perhaps I should mention Thomas and Kramer are screenwriters? (And, full disclosure, Kramer a good friend.)
The beginning and end of From What I Remember are largely ridiculously-unlikely-but-enjoy-the-ride action movie, while the book's substantial middle is all you-know-what's-going-to-happen-but-you'll-eat-up-every-minute-of-it love story. Featuring, of course, Kylie and Max.
Max - who would have thought it? - has a ton more substance than Kylie ever suspected possible. And Kylie - hold onto your hats! - is way cooler than Max thought, and really rocks a Mexican wedding dress.
Okay, it sounds like I'm giving the book a hard time, but here's the thing...
You've been to the movies. You know when you're going to be seeing a love story. And you know exactly who it is who's going to be falling in love. Does that make it any less enjoyable? No, it makes it more enjoyable. You're rooting for true love, and you're comfortable in knowing you're going to get it, even when the characters don't know.
Especially when the characters don't know.
The authors somehow pack all that movie magic into prose - no easy feat. Not only do they nail the "meant to be-ness" of the love story, they capture the "don't think about it too much" thrills of an action flick as well as the "two very different fish out of water" bonding of a road movie (even if the denizens of their fictional Mexico can hardly be discerned from La Jolla's over-the-top upscale populace).
My advance copy weighs in at about 450 pages...
so there's a lot more to From What I Remember than just the two main characters and their byplay with each other.
Kylie's only friend at Freiburg, Will, is a cross-dressing gay guy with whom she shares a - wait for it... - love of movies. (Every chapter begins with a quote from a hip flick, and Kylie and Will communicate largely in memorized movie dialogue.) Kylie also has a younger brother with Asperger's, and a remote dad with a backstory that Kylie coincidentally stumbles upon in Mexico. (A nation of about 49 people, all of whom speak perfect, up to the minute, MTV English, to judge from the book.)
Max, for his part, has a dastardly girlfriend (though with a heart and her own problems) and a dying dad. And a best friend who turns out to be gay. (No, he doesn't pair up with Will. Will pairs up with a supposedly Mexican boy.)
The book's title refers to the fact that a little more underage drinking goes on than you'd probably like, but everybody takes such loving care of each other (and the inevitability of good outcomes so pervades this book) that you'd still feel good about these kids even if they were sharing needles.
Do I even need to tell you that the kids almost miss their graduation, which would mean Kylie missing giving her valedictory, but that their antic-filled dash back across the border gets them there just in the nick of time? And that Kylie throws out her over-written speech to, instead, speak from the heart, with all she's learned of love and life in the last 24 hours?
And that the crowd goes wild?
Of course not. You've seen this movie before, and every time they plug new actors and new particulars into it, you want to see it again. And you'll happily keep seeing it, until you've grown too old to believe in movie love, opposites attracting, and people too good-looking for their own good actually having substance.
In other words, never.
Read more of Steve's children's book reviews.
Best Children's Books - Find, Read or Write home page.