Ah, to be young and back in high school again... ahem ... I mean, man oh man, I'd rather walk barefoot over hot coals than have to relive the high school years. The awkward freshman year, trying to figure out where you fit in, the crush on the cool guy who likely doesn't know you exist, the dorky clothes you wear because you have no idea they're not in fashion ... oh, the agony of it all. If only there had been a handbook filled with the do's and don'ts of freshmen year.
Marissa Walsh has tapped into this teenage angst with A Field Guide to High School (Delacorte Press, 133 pages, $15.99), which actually is a novel but could certainly be read as a handbook for navigating the pressure-cooker world of high school...
Claire is a motivated prep school graduate headed to Yale and on the day her parents pack her up to drive her there, she leaves behind the titular Field Guide for her younger sister, Andie, who is just entering high school.
Andie is going to the same school Claire went to, but Andie's best friend, Bess is going to the local Catholic high school. They vow to remain BFF while they read through Claire's handbook, which gives advice on what to wear to freshman orientation, how to handle yourself in the lunchroom, what clubs to join, what sports to play, how to act in social situations and much more.
In the chapter detailing the kinds of people Andie will encounter, Claire begins with the "Hawkings." Some pop-culture examples of Hawkings include Doogie Howser, Screech, Urkel and Napoleon Dynamite. Then she offers up some advice if that is the category you should happen to fall into.
"The trick to being smart in high school is to be smart without actually letting one know," Claire writes to Andie. "You need to be nonchalant about it. Shrug as if you couldn't possibly explain how you just pulled that A or that correct answer out of your butt."
Some of the other groups include:
Jocks: "You can hear them coming a mile away. Their cars, their mouths, their shoes, their hair — everything about them is loud."
Theater People: "You will never have any idea what they are talking about."
Off the Grids: "When I was a sophomore, there was this one senior who started using a cane. Not like an old person's cane, but a Fred-Astaire-From-the-old-movies cane."
Hiltons: "They look perfect, even at sports practice. The best way to deal with these girls is to ignore them. They can't stand that."
Normals: "They don't bite, they aren't poisonous, they are just as confused and insecure as you are."
"Leftovers" include Goths, Hippies, Nonwhite Kids, Scholarship Kids, Skaters, Sluts, Stoners, Student Council, Tech Support and Toms (kids who have tons of MySpace friends but none in real life).
All practical information, to be sure, but I felt a little cheated after reading it because all we get is the handbook and we never get to see how Andie and Bess apply it, so it doesn't really read like a novel at all.