By Susan Fine
Read my interview.
I've been e-mailing Susan Fine, and was going to send her some of my comments when she asked once she knew I'd finished the book. Since I am a crap-tastic correspondent, those comments are sitting in the drafts folder of my inbox. Fortunately they made a great template for this review. I read this one on a bus, where it very much kept me distracted from my cramped legs. And I am in love with Flux's design team, because every book of theirs I own has a beautiful, sleek cover that feels good in my hands. It's easier to relax with a book that feels good. (For those wondering: yes, I have had passionate debates with people over the best trim size and paper type. This would be part of the reason I burst out laughing when I heard of the Kindle. It sounded way too passionless for me.)
I think Fine tried something very interesting with Mauricio as the narrator, and it's a choice that won't work for some. For me, it was perfect. Most books, of course, but their protagonist firmly in the action. But Mauricio is an outsider to St. Stephen's. Not only that, he's naive. Drugs, sex, and manipulation weave around him, but he doesn't have the knowledge to decode the implications of what he sees and hears. In high school, I too was blissfully naive. (Probably still am. Just less, in some ways.) Finding out who had sex or did drugs always shocked me. So I liked reading about a boy with the same issue - especially since I do know enough now to pick up on the insinuations Fine left for the reader to pick up on, even if Mauricio didn't.
I expected INITIATION to be more sinister, from the cover to the foreshadowing in the frame story: "Yet I had managed to survive ninth grade, and all the rest of it, when five of my classmates hadn't. There were a bunch of casualties from that whole mess freshman year." But things fell out in an unexpected way. The major action revolves around Mauricio's fellow nerdy friend Henry, cooler Alex, despised Zimmer, the wrestling team, and Henry's sister Biz. These kids live in affluence, and need to keep up appearances.
It's very sweet how Mauricio falls for the extremely hot Biz, his hormones blinding him to the fact she's a bit easy. Though I found it odd that despite his desire to protect her, he didn't understand Henry's actions to keep Biz out of trouble. But anger does make people ignore logic. And I liked Mauricio's foil, Alex, who was clever and scheming and managed to distance himself from the whole thing. I suspect he was more deeply involved in the events of the novel than he let on to Mauricio, knowing no one else would enlighten him. Of course, we're limited to Mauricio's point of view so we'll never know.
I also liked how the online aspects were presented. I was a little afraid that it would be an adult's paranoid imagining of what social networking is like. But most of it was pretty realistic and the warnings useful. Don't give away your password. Don't let people take photos of you doing something stupid. Definitely don't let anyone post those photos on the net. Pretty much, control how you're presented in a public and ineraseable form. (Me? I'm hard to Google. I like it. Pretty much, all you can find out is about my most prestigious academic accomplishments when you do find me. Not exactly incriminating.) There were some l33t h4xor skills employed, but nothing too implausible for an intelligent computer geek.
INITIATION was a strong debut, so I'm happy Fine is already working on her next YA novel. I've certainly never been to an all-male prep school, but she did evoke my high school days. (She has an unfair advantage, being an English teacher.) I think many outsiders will enjoy this tale of bullies and more clever bullies told by an outsider.