GUEST WRITER LAUREN SIEBEN RECOMMENDS CHARMING AS A VERB BY BEN PHILIPPE
Charming as a Verb by Ben Phillipe follows Henri Haltiwanger a star student, debater, and charmer. Henri is a first-generation Haitian who lives to please his parents, his teachers, and his classmates. He is used to getting what he wants by charming his way into it, and he will do anything it takes to get into his dream school, Columbia University, so he can fit in with his wealthy New York neighbours and friends. When one of his most intense classmates, Corinne, discovers his dog-walking business is not exactly what it seems to be, she blackmails him into helping her become popular in their prestigious school. Soon their mutual agreement starts to turn into a friendship, and things start to get a little more complicated.
Especially relevant in a high school setting, this book explores the pressures teens experience during the college application process, and how the expectations of parents can add a layer of stress to an already tense situation. The book also addresses inequality in the education system and how wealthier teens have access to certain advantages whilst applying for colleges.
If you are looking for books with strong female characters, look no further. Corinne was a delight of a character that challenged the male lead and a lot of female character tropes. This book also had great conversations around what it takes to be yourself when you feel like you are being pulled in multiple directions and would resonate with teenagers in high school who are trying to find their place among their peers. It also would be a great springboard for conversations around the choices we make when we are faced with societal pressures. Though Henri is a character who makes some not-so-great decisions, the way the author deals with them could lend nicely to teenagers who are also struggling to make choices and be themselves. Overall, this was a great own-voices YA novel that would be a great addition to a classroom library.
Lauren Sieben is a High School ELA teacher at John Caldwell School in Grand Falls, New Brunswick. Her favourite activity is reading books. Her second favourite activity is talking about them.