The Book of Luke by Jenny O’Connell
Emily has always been a nice girl. Maybe it’s just her personality, or maybe it’s because her mother is Patricia Abbott, syndicated newspaper columnist and bestselling author of etiquette books. But that was before Emily found out she had to move back to Boston in the middle of her senior year while her father remained in Chicago, was waitlisted by Brown, and got dumped the morning of her flight to Boston by her boyfriend of four months (who was wearing the L.L. Bean jacket she gave him for Christmas and had just finished eating the sesame bagel she’d toasted for him). This is what years of being nice is good for? It’s time to stop being so nice, Emily decides. And the handbook for guys that she and her old friends Josie and Lucy start writing makes being not nice that much easier.
The seniors at Heywood Academy have a tradition. Every year, each senior will place an object in a time capsule that will be opened ten years later. Emily, Josie, and Lucy decide that they don’t want their object to be some lame magazine or CD. When Emily says that guys in the future will behave just as badly as their contemporary counterparts and would need a guidebook to improve, a light bulb goes off. A handbook for guys would be the perfect thing to put in the time capsule, especially if they can prove it works. The target? Luke Preston, who just dumped Josie by e-mail over Christmas vacation.
I had a hard time picturing the Luke Preston I remembered cheating on anybody, no less Josie. When Josie and I would still talk on the phone our sophomore year, she’d mentioned Luke had changed over the summer, but I figured he’d just gotten his braces off, maybe lost a few pounds, and finally shaved the brown fuzz that seemed to hover over his upper lip like something more in need of a Swiffer than a razor.
But things had changed in the two and a half years Emily was in Chicago. Luke Preston is now the hottest guy in school, and he knows it. At first, he does nothing to prove to Emily that he is anything but a jerk, but the more time she spends with him (all for the Guide, of course), the more she starts to fall for him. And when Josie starts talking about getting back together with the new and improved Luke, the lies Emily has been telling—or, rather, the truths she hasn’t been telling—to Luke, to her friends, and to herself, start to catch up with her. Because how can she tell Luke that her relationship with him started as a big experiment? Or tell Josie to stop talking about dating Luke again, because she wants him for herself?
Guidebooks are not a new plot device, but with Emily Abbott, Jenny O’Connell makes it seem fresh and new. Emily is what makes The Book of Luke work. She is smart, funny, easy to relate to, and so is her narration. But while Emily may have been on track to being named valedictorian at her old high school, she still has a lot to learn about human nature.
I also have to admire O’Connell’s storytelling. She has a way of introducing characters or past events, then slyly referring back to them several chapters later in ways that seem natural and organic. “The Guy’s Guide” tips that open each chapter are funny and true (“Tip #14: Do not blame my tone of voice, my lack of patience, or my bad mood on PMS. It’s not my period that’s my problem. More likely, it’s you.”), and the characters, even the minor ones, are so realistic that you feel like they could really exist.
The Book of Luke ranks high on my list of favorite YA books read so far this year. Definitely recommend it to older readers of Sarah Dessen, but most other readers will also find something to enjoy in The Book of Luke.