Sophie Stein, a.k.a Fifi/Sofa/Couch, is a popular almost-full-blown teenager, and for her, like most girls, this means boys…lots of them. With an exposition that includes her infatuation with hot-boy Dylan, Sophie seems like just another experimental beauty queen; however, when Sophie drops Dylan because of his bad traits—including his fear that his parents will find out she’s Jewish—we see that there’s more to Sophie than meets the eyeliner. In the aftermath of a failed relationship with Dylan, and a completely insane attempt at online dating, Sophie finds herself dangerously attracted to the most unlikely guy ever, the guy whose very name is synonymous with “loser”: the school’s iconic geek, Robin Murphy. At first, she fights the weird desire to know what his lips would feel like on hers, but as she gets to know him, her character begins an arc of change that transforms the formerly flighty female into an independent, almost-full-blown woman.
The closer she gets to Robin, the more she realizes he’s a better friend than she’s ever had. Her closest friends—Rachel and Grace—don’t have messed-up home lives, so she can’t talk to them about her mother being more concerned with her soaps than Sophie, or her father practically being a ghost. In “Murph,” she finds someone to talk to who doesn’t judge her, who listens and makes life more bearable, who gets her laughing uncontrollably, and who likes her for who she is, not just for her pretty face. It only takes a little while for Sophie to realize that the boys she had liked before were all “Dylans,” good-looking jerks that only cared about themselves. And in that same short amount of time, she begins to realize that Robin is the total opposite of that, and she falls for him completely…and secretly.
Life outside school is great. She spends lots of time with Robin and still enough time with her girlfriends to keep them unaware; but, as her life outside of school gets better, her world inside gets complicated. Robin claims to understand her social situation and volunteers to keep doing things like sitting alone at lunch while Sophie hangs with Rachel and Grace. For a while, Sophie lives the façade of single, teenage perfection, but all the while, she is plagued with guilt for being a snob. That guilt manifests itself when her friends go on vacation and she has a wonderful week just to spend with just Robin. It takes some soul-searching, but in a cliffhanger climax, Sophie decides that, despite the danger of losing her popularity, she owes honesty to Robin, her friends, and ultimately, to herself.
What’s awesome about this novel-in-verse is that Sonya Sones creates a protagonist so vivid and entertaining that readers forget they are actually, wait for it…reading! As Sophie moves from one crush to another, awakening memories of early teenage drama and excitement in readers of all ages, the pages will begin to turn on their own. For struggling or reluctant readers, this kind of book is the penultimate. It’s appropriate, non-intimidating in layout (not many words on each page), and fast.
While What My Mother Doesn’t Know deals with big issues—peer pressure, antisemitism, online safety, etc—it’s also light-hearted and fun. In a market dominated by dark YA novels (that are awesome, too, so don’t get me wrong), a read that doesn’t have potential to spurn ulcers or wreck your fingernails can be refreshing. And even better? It has a sequel! What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know, which picks up with Robin’s point of view at the cliffhanger, is every bit as creative, witty, and wonderful as the first. I must warn you, though; these books have somehow found their way onto banned lists in Kentucky (and maybe other places, too). So you know what that means? You should read them as soon as possible and then pass them on to a teenager near you. Happy reading!