Sway is an unexpected and entertaining novel about a teenage boy who pretends he doesn’t care and lives by Shakespeare: ‘Nothing is good or bad, only thinking makes it so.’ While dealing with his past and his problems at home, Jesse ‘Sway’ Alderman has made a life for himself by dealing drugs and helping people get what they want, including helping handsome/arsehole jock Ken the girl of his dreams, Bridget. His best friends are Joey, a punk lesbian if you want to label her, and, though kind of reluctantly on Jesse’s side, Bridget’s kid brother Pete who has cerebral palsy – plus a few others that help him and his “business” and the hilarious Mr. Dunkelman, who pretends to be Jesse’s grandfather. That’s a brief summary of the novel, and adding to that is of course the complication of Jesse’s feelings for Bridget, and the fact that wow, even if he has no idea what love feels like, it might just be feeling it despite his best efforts not to care about anybody.
In all, this was an interesting and exciting read. It has just the right amount of black comedy, sarcasm, angst, sexual tension and character/plot development to add up to a good read in my opinion. Don’t be fooled by the front cover or the tagline – this isn’t a book written for girls and it certainly isn’t just a romance book. I mean, the romance part of the book is sweet, but it’s not the best thing about the book. I liked this book because it raises a lot of things about how teenagers (and people) deal with their problems and respond to the things that are going in their lives. When you know what Jesse’s experienced at home and what he’s has to go through with his parents you understand why he shuts himself off from feeling and generally acts like a complete arsehole to everyone who cares about him. It’s a realistic response/coping mechanism. People aren’t perfect and that’s another important thing to learn. You can’t expect people to be perfect and to treat you the way you should be treated all the time. People make mistakes and sometimes people just don’t know enough about themselves or about life to realise what they’re doing or how they’re feeling. People might pretend to be someone they’re not or they might never act like themselves around other people because they’re too scared to show people who they really are, and that’s just something that happens in life, a way that people have to act to protect themselves from being hurt. Jesse is a smart character. Of course, there were times I found him really annoying and just wanted him to get his shit together, but at the same time he really does know a lot and he acts accordingly because he doesn’t feel he deserves to be cared for. He knows that people get hurt and he’s been hurt so he tries his best not to be hurt. He tries to stay in control, but life is never entirely in anyone’s control. That’s the reality, and I think that’s what’s really important about this book.
I’m not saying that this is a groundbreaking novel, or that it talks about life and people in a way that nothing ever has before. It’s still a book worth reading, I think. The characters are all well-written, and definitely not two-dimensional (except maybe Ken) and I really enjoyed how honest Kat Spears’s writing is. How it’s not trite or pretentious, but has just the right amount of subtlety and grit to get its point across. I recommend this novel for anyone who dismisses YA novels for being too sentimental or too cliched (though some might disagree with me on that by the ending but I liked it). Whatever. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s a pretty good read.