In his debut novel, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager, Ben Philippe’s influences and inspirations are front and center. While he shares the Haitian-Canadian (je m’excuse, Quebecois) immigrant heritage with his protagonist Norris Kaplan, Philippe also directly references the 2004 high school dramedy Mean Girls, and the themes of this movie echo throughout the book.
As the new kid in school, after being dragged by his mom from Montreal to Austin, Texas, the socially selective (meaning slightly snobby and slightly awkward) Norris finds himself in a completely new setting: it’s hot, constantly hot, he’s the only French speaking student in the school, the only Canadian, and one of the only ones with a brown complexion. He is utterly prepared to hate his new life and carries the appropriate chip on his shoulder to school with him.
What unfolds is a story of, yes, discovery, but also an exploration and subversion of modern prejudice – the ones Kaplan fears, and the ones he realizes he holds.
This book should quench the thirst of most readers as it’s very relatable and cultural references are there for context and flavour. The quality of Philippe’s story and his writing style are impressive, but it should be noted that it does include mature content.
Will Milner is an English & Outdoor Pursuits teacher at Fredericton High School, where he also coaches soccer and track & field. When not teaching, or coaching, he can be found with his wife Jen outside with their dogs and playing with their daughter Olivia.