Wednesday, September 2, 2009

All that Glitters

All that Glitters by Nicole O'Dell is an engaging and authentic novel detailing the struggles, successes and failures of ninth-grade twin sisters, Dani and Drew. As Dani and Drew begin Freshman year, Drew becomes consumed with making a name for herself and asserting her independence. Dani is understandably hurt and confused when Drew chooses cheerleading, friends and a boyfriend over her relationship with Dani.

Dani and Drew are both Christians, growing up in a home where church attendance on Sunday and Wednesday, wearing appropriate clothing, and telling the truth are the norm. As Drew is named captain of the JV cheerleading squad and attracts the attention of Trevor, the Junior football captain, she is faced with more and more choices. She can remain true to her family's values and do what God wants her to do, or she can go along with the crowd and maintain her social status.

In an innovative and fascinating twist, the reader gets to decide whether Drew will ultimately make the right choice or the wrong choice. About two-thirds of the way through the book, Drew is given the chance to attend an overnight party with her boyfriend and other football players and cheerleaders. She is sure her slightly naive parents will believe her lies and allow her to attend, and she is equally sure not attending will spell the end of her relationship with Trevor. We are told to make our choice and turn to the appropriate page to read about Drew's consequences. Each decision is followed by three chapters that continue the story.

When Drew decides not to lie or attend the party, Trevor makes fun of her and begins to flirt with other girls on his way to the party. Drew goes out for ice cream with her parents and tells them everything about her relationship with Trevor. She also tells them about sneaking make-up out of the house and rolling her skirts short at school. Drew's parents praise her for her maturity in making the right decision and help her come up with a plan for returning to school on Monday, so she can be true to herself.

When Drew lies and attends the party, she is shocked to see alcohol and drugs in abundance. However, she thinks "Tomorrow it would be all over and she could go back to normal life... . But since she was there and had decided not to leave... she thought it might be a good idea to take her opportunity to try some things that she may not have a chance to do again." Drew drinks a beer and samples other drinks and some drugs. She feels "fuzzy" but doesn't mind, and soon is kissing Trevor. Fortunately, Drew's parents become uneasy about her being at the sleepover and call the house. A boy answers the phone and tells them no parents are home. After Drew's parents arrive to take her home, the police come and ticket students at the party for underage drinking and illegal drugs. Some of the kids even have to spend the night in jail.

What I Like: Although the book sounds very predictable in the retelling, it is extremely well-written. O'Dell perfectly captures the dilemmas of a teenage girls torn between doing the right thing and wanting to have friends and be like everyone else. With each decision Drew makes, she has an internal struggle. She vacillates between wanting to do things God's way and wanting to try out her independence. Drew is a likable and authentic teenager who readers want to be friends with. She is funny, smart, outgoing and kind-hearted, so readers empathize with her struggles.

Dani is also a sweet and likable character who readers can learn a lot from. She is very different from her sister, and though she is more grounded in her faith and identity, she isn't portrayed as perfect. She is angry and jealous when Drew forgets about her debate team try-outs, and she gets sick of hearing about cheerleading. Again, O'Dell gives us an authentic, human character to relate to.

Drew and Dani's parents give us a good model for being pleasant but strict, and they also show us the pitfalls of trusting teens too much. They provide a pointed reminder that even the best kids can make a wrong choice. They even administer logical, fair consequences in the midst of emotional upset.

I especially like the choose-your-own-ending feature. This provides a safe way for girls to experience making their own choices and lets them think through consequences of both decisions. The endings also give girls good examples of ways to get out of situations or handle awkward conversations.

The back page of the book is titled, "My Decision" and contains a pledge for a teenage girl to sign and a prayer for her to pray if she would like to remain drug and alcohol free, and protect her purity. Part of the prayer states, "It is my desire to avoid alcohol, drugs, and physical intimacy as I grow up. Help me to avoid situations that present those things as options to me. And if I find myself in a tight spot, please help me find a way out and give me the strength to take it." This is a neat way to transfer the message of the book into real life.

What I Dislike: The only thing I dislike in an otherwise great book is the fact O'Dell never shows us Drew's return to school after making the wrong choice. This version of the story ends on Sunday, with Drew doing chores and feeling better because she told her family everything. While Drew's relief feels very genuine and realistic, we never see Drew face her consequences at school. The last time we see Drew's boyfriend, he is giving her an angry glare as her parents pick her up from the party. Also, because of Drew's disobedience, her parents tell her she will have to step down from cheerleading. As real as her relief is, I would have liked to see her return to school and face Trevor and the JV cheerleaders.

On the other hand, when Drew makes the right choice, her parents and Dani help her formulate a plan for handling Monday. In fact, we experience school all the way through Thursday, when Trevor finally talks to Drew. Drew declines Trevor's offer to get back together and mentions he should consider attending church. Trevor's response to Drew is so mature it feels almost too good to be true, but this best-case scenario does show how much Drew relies on God to give her the right words to say.

The only other things not to like in the book are trivial. The girls call each other "sis" which sounds a bit forced; and the publisher never explains how the "choose-your-own" feature works. A note on the back of the book or in the first few pages would have been nice. I had to read to page 128 to figure it out! Page 128 is titled "It's Decision Time," and readers are told to turn to page 130 if Drew decides not to go to the party, or turn to page 160 if she decides to go with Trevor and his friends.

Overall Rating: Excellent!

Age Appeal: Publisher lists 10-15. Due to date rape, illegal drug use, and unwed pregnancy, I would say 13 and up. (See Special Note.)

Publisher Info: Barbour Publishing, 2009; ISBN:978-1-60260-400-1 ; Paperback $7.97

Buy it Now at for $5.99

Special Note: At a Wednesday Youth Group meeting that Drew and Dani attend, the speakers address an unwed pregnancy leading to adoption, and a date rape situation.

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