Kids today are competitive — far more so than they were when I was in high school. Today’s kids are pushed from an early age, both at home and among their peers, to be the first walkers in their age group, the first readers in their class, or even the best player on their teams. I didn’t realize this so much until my oldest was closing out her last year or two of high school. As a parent, I was stressing over things like her college applications and whether her ACT and/or GPA was high enough to get into the school of her choice. Did she have enough extracurricular activities? How many volunteer hours in the community is enough to “look good” on a college app? And all of this stressing must certainly have been stressing out my own daughter as she worked hard to reach the bar of every one of my expectations, even as I kept moving that bar higher and higher. In retrospect, I’m amazed she turned out sane and healthy and as well-rounded as she is. Frankly, it’s no surprise that we seem to have seen an increase in depression and anxiety among our youth in recent years as they keep reaching higher and higher to be the best. Really folks, this has got to stop!
This weekend I read a book that completely gutted me. WINNER TAKE ALL, by Laurie Devore, is a young adult novel exploring the relationships and issues today’s teens face as they try to be what everyone (their parents, their coaches, their teachers, and even their peers) expect of them, all the while not even understanding who they are themselves yet. It centers on two students, Nell and Jackson, who are running neck-and-neck for the position of class Valedictorian. Nell is an overachiever by “choice,” which really means she’s striving hard to be the person everyone expects her to be; while Jackson, with his million-dollar smile, appears to have everything come easy for him. But things are never as they appear. What begins as simply a “competition” for valedictorian escalades until secrets are unveiled that rip apart the lives of both Nell and Jackson, and everyone around them.
Simply stated, I really loved this book. I loved that the characters weren’t perfect and, in fact, were completely unlikable at times. But it was that three-dimensional view of the characters which gave this novel authenticity.
With issues of anxiety, alcohol abuse, first love and first sexual experiences at its core, WINNER TAKE ALL may be a bit gritty for some younger teens, so I’d recommend it mostly for older high school students; but the author did a really nice job of approaching these issues in a way that — while edgy — was still appropriate for younger teens with less experience. As a parent who has a firm rule that I never tell my kids they can’t read a book that interests them, I would’ve had no problem with my daughter reading this as a teen; though, depending upon her age, she may’ve benefitted from my reading it simultaneously in case the issues were outside the context of her experiences.
WINNER TAKE ALL is a wonderful read that had me turning the pages, and even weeping alongside the characters as life threw them more than their share of curve balls. It reminded me a lot of the approach Judy Blume took with her YA novels like TIGER EYES and FOREVER; and I feel like it’s a book that will be passed from friend to friend in much the same way as we did Blume’s YA novels back in the 80s.
WINNER TAKE ALL
Released January 30, 2018
by Imprint (a Macmillan Press imprint)
For Nell Becker, life is a competition she needs to win.
For Jackson Hart, everyone is a pawn in his own game.
They both have everything to lose.
Nell wants to succeed at everything―school, sports, life. And victory is sweeter when it means beating Jackson Hart, the rich, privileged, undisputed king of Cedar Woods Prep Academy. Yet no matter how hard she tries, Jackson is somehow one step ahead. They’re a match made in hell, but opposites do attract.
Drawn to each other by their rivalry, Nell and Jackson fall into a whirlwind romance that consumes everything in their lives. But when a devastating secret exposes their relationship as just another game, how far will Nell go to win?
Visceral and whip-smart, Laurie Devore’s Winner Take All paints an unflinching portrait of obsessive love, toxic competition, and the drive for perfection.