Book seven in the Hundred Oaks series
By Miranda Kenneally
Available now from Sourcebooks
I am a massive fan of Miranda Kenneally's Hundred Oaks series. Her stories are appealingly contemporary, tackling issues like class differences, sexism, or fame in the internet age. Her characters are realistic, each with their own flaws and strengths. DEFENDING TAYLOR has all those qualities that make this series such a strong one. DEFENDING TAYLOR also returns to her classic, sporty heroines after JESSIE'S GIRL.
To be misleadingly frank, DEFENDING TAYLOR isn't my favorite novel Kenneally has ever written. It's stronger than many others I've read this year, but didn't have the appeal to me of many of her other novels.
The eponymous Taylor is a senator's daughter and former incoming captain of her private school's soccer team. But she got expelled, and now she's going to public school her senior year. She isn't making new friends, and she's on the outs with her family. The only one who is there for her is Ezra, her brother's best friend who is home from college for his own mysterious reasons. Of course, Taylor is reluctant to trust him ever since he stood her up at her sweet sixteen.
Romantic tension has been long simmering between them, and now they have the shared experience of struggling with their families' expectations of them as they decide what they want in life. It's cute, but I didn't feel much spark when reading. There's very little standing in the way of their relationship except for that missed party. The explanation, when it comes, makes sense and I believe Ezra would keep it secret even though that was a bad decision. But it felt unbalanced to me because Ezra's issues are a side note while Taylor's are the focus.
Although it is not instantly revealed, DEFENDING TAYLOR doesn't take too long to explain why Taylor was kicked out. She was caught with a bunch of Adderall (that was actually her boyfriend's). Taylor didn't snitch, because her boyfriend would lose his scholarship and she can weather the storm better with her powerful father (somewhat reasonable) and because she would be socially ostracized as a snitch (if this were an old-timey teen movie).
She's pissed that her dad made no efforts to protect her (even though he believes in not throwing the family name around) and her boyfriend didn't confess to protect her (for the same reasons she didn't confess to protect her). Which is totally fair. There are mitigating factors, but no one stood by her, and that hurts no matter what.
But here's the thing: the police don't get involved. She isn't tried as a drug dealer. Her school treats her solely as an occasional user, which she admits to being. (In fact, they drug-tested her and she had Adderall in her system.) She gets kicked out of her posh school, but she doesn't even have to go to rehab or do community service. DEFENDING TAYLOR makes some great points about how drug users are demonized in the US, but I got tired of Taylor whining about being punished for a crime she didn't commit. She got caught due to her boyfriend's carelessness, but she is being punished for a crime she committed. I wish more of the focus had been on the excessiveness of how the public reacts (which is, to be fair, a big deal in the story when the press gets wind of the story).
DEFENDING TAYLOR is a cute summer read, but sometimes I got a little fed up with the heroine.