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Lissa Daniels is tired of coming in second to her quarterback boyfriend's pointless feud with the school soccer team -- and she's not alone. After being abandoned in favor of the feud one too many times, the football and soccer girlfriends of Hamilton High have had enough. The girls need the upper hand if this war is ever going to end, and what better way to gain the advantage than to take away the one thing their boyfriends will do anything for: Sex. Unfortunately, the boys aren't going down without a fight, and Lissa finds her loyalties unexpectedly tested in the face of her history with the boys' leader, Cash Sterling. But what begins as a battle strategy soon tailspins into an all-out war of seduction, deception and desire.
In her sophomore novel, Kody Keplinger once again brings the unflinching honesty and authentic teen voice that made The DUFF such a phenomenal read. Lissa is a complex character, full of insecurities and compulsions, but still strong and determined to stand her ground. Ever since her mother died, Lissa has become a bit of a control freak, trying to keep her older brother and paralyzed father safe. She has a tendency to be a nervous wreck, but calms herself through counting -- the minutes, the seconds, her breaths, the ceiling tiles -- you name it. Though at times I wished she would speak her mind more forcefully, Lissa's quirks and eccentricities bring her character to life.
The greatest thing about Keplinger's novels is that they feature healthy female friendships. Of course there are the catty girls so ubiquitous in the genre, but there are also loyal, smart and strong girls who stand by the heroine's side. Boys are not the beginning and end of their universe -- especially in Shut Out. Though this is a story of boys versus girls, the focus is on the female bonds that form from the chaos. The eclectic group that comes together to end the ridiculous feud ranges the spectrum of teenage experience, and the diversity with which Keplinger depicts even the minor girls in this group is remarkable.
The most dazzling character is by far Chloe. Chloe is Lissa's best friend, though the two girls couldn't be more different. While Lissa is somewhat neurotic, introverted and obsessed with organization and order, Chloe is wild and carefree, unafraid to be herself and tell it like it is. Their relationship is hilarious, and the back and forth banter will remind readers of their own best friends, the kind of comfort that only comes from profound trust. The two girls bring out the best in each other. Lissa's former best friend Ellen, another shining example of loyalty, is also fabulous in her own way. Less ostentatious than Chloe, she's intelligent and mature, as well as compassionate and forgiving. Even the mean girl turns out to have her own crosses to bear, while the seemingly shy and naive junior has the healthiest relationship of them all.
On the other hand, a more careful depiction of the male characters would have rounded out the novel. While the female population is treated with insight and attention, the boys came across as universally unenlightened -- except for Cash. Though at times readers are as confused by his motives as Lissa, they can't help but be disarmed by his easy manners and winning charm. Keplinger's portrayal of the exhiliration and bewilderment of flirtation will resonate with anyone who has experienced the mistakes and uncertainty that plague budding romance. There is no love-at-first-sight for these two; they have to work hard for their moment -- a moment that has already slipped through their fingers once before.
Disclosure: I received an ARC of this novel at BEA for an honest review.
Thanks to a goody bag from the Teen Author Carnival, I have an extra ARC of Shut Out by Kody Keplinger for one lucky reader!
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