Reality Check by Peter Abrahams
In spite of its abrupt ending, I enjoyed Reality Check, Peter Abrahams’ new YA mystery. While the voice occasionally struck me as being more like that of a middle grade novel than YA (and this is definitely a YA novel), it’s very easy to read, with a likable protagonist. I’ll be recommending it to teens, and not just those looking for a mystery.
High school classes are just a means to an end for Cody. He needs to pass his classes to play football, and said classes aren’t worth the effort of trying to get good grades when he finds it hard to comprehend much of what is being taught. Staying eligible is all that matters, especially now that sophomore year is over. Junior year, after all, is when Cody can really catch the attention of college football coaches.
Cody’s girlfriend, on the other hand?
“I got a B in calc,” Clea said.
“Wow,” said Cody. There were two kids taking calc in the whole school, Clea—a sophomore like Cody—and some brain in the senior class. No one thought of Clea as a brain. She was just good at everything: striker on the varsity soccer team, class president, assistant editor of the lit mag; and the most beautiful girl in the school—in the whole state, in Cody’s opinion.
But a real person, as he well knew, capable of annoyance, for example. When Clea got annoyed, her right eyebrow did this little fluttering thing, like now. “Wow?” she said.
“Yeah,” he said. He himself wouldn’t ever get as far as calc, not close. “Pretty awesome.”
She shook her head. “I’ve never had a B.”
For a second or two, Cody didn’t quite get her meaning; he’d scored very few Bs himself. Then it hit him. “All As, every time?”
She nodded. (p. 5)
After a cheap shot injures Cody’s knee and ends his football season, Cody drops out of school and starts working full-time. One morning, the local newspaper’s headline catches his attention: “Local Girl Missing.”
Clea’s rich father has sent her to a boarding school in Vermont, and though Cody broke up with Clea, he is still worried. The next morning, Cody receives a letter in the mail. Clea sent it before she disappeared, and there’s something about the letter that bothers Cody. Is he reading too much into the letter, or is it really a clue? Determined to find Clea, Cody decides to go to Vermont himself in order to find her.
The mystery element of Reality Check does take a while to develop, but in the meantime, Abrahams fleshes out Cody, making him sympathetic and giving readers a great deal of insight into his character. I particularly liked how Cody doesn’t think of himself as a smart guy. Unlike many of the sleuths in children’s and YA mysteries, who are obviously bright and/or overachievers, Cody is an average guy—below average, academically—who gets involved in the investigation because of how much he cares for Clea. And where Cody’s poor grades and decision to drop out are concerned, the tone of the narrator is pretty matter-of-fact; they’re not presented as negatives or something to be ashamed of, just as part of who Cody is. (Okay, and the story wouldn’t work if Cody was in school, because then he couldn’t go to Vermont in the middle of a semester.) Once the mystery surrounding Clea’s disappearance emerges, it is suitably suspenseful and the motivations of the main players’ plausible. While I don’t think this is a great book, I did like it and would also like to see more YA books similar to it.
Book source: library.