Tuesday, January 31, 2012

REVIEW: FIRST DATE -- new YA from Krista McGee

When I first read the premise for First Date, a new romance for young adults, it seemed a little bit silly and a whole lot done. As in, "Yes, I've seen three different versions of that Disney Channel movie" done. But what I thought would be a tired, comic romp through the White House turned out to be a tender teen tale of love, friendship and faith -- set against the backdrop of a reality TV show. And, like the scores of viewers who tune into reality television each week, it took barely any time at all before I was utterly addicted to Krista McGee's version of the First Family Teen Romance.


Addy Davidson is a good student who works hard in hopes of earning a scholarship to an Ivy League school. She's got friends, but Addy is certainly not the most popular kid in school. She's just … normal. So why, out of all the outgoing, beautiful cheerleader-types at Addy's school, did her principal pick her to go on a new reality TV show? She has no desire to compete for a chance to go to senior prom with Jonathan Jackson, the son of the president of the United States, but regardless of her protestations, she's on her way.

The show is being filmed at a historic mansion near Nashville and when Addy, the 97th of 100 contestants, arrives she is even less happy to be there than she was reluctant to come in the first place. Tired and irritable, she meets Jonathan Jackson at the door of the mansion, like all the other girls, with the cameras rolling. But whereas the other contestants have concocted clever phrases to impress the president's son, Addy just wants the quickest ticket home – and she tells him as much, once she recovers from coming face-to-face with Jonathan's movie-star good looks. And the cameras catch every rude word.

Addy is sure that, come decision time, she'll be sent home, but her honesty backfires. America, of course, falls in love with "everygirl" Addy -- and Jonathan? Well, he's a little intrigued, too. Rather than fulfilling Addy's wish to go home, Jonathan pushes her through to the next round. But as much as America seems to like Addy, the other contestants do not. Her only ally is Kara, whose quick Long Island tongue and loyal friendship help to insulate Addy against the attacks of the catty, grasping contestants out to win their place at Jonathan's side.

As Addy moves forward in the competition, her attitude toward Jonathan – and the competition – changes. But when new enemies arise, will she be brave enough to stand up for what she believes in? Or, win or lose, will she go home having thrown away the opportunity to accomplish something of significance to God?


The author makes it very clear that Addy's school is a struggling, tuition-based Christian school. Keeping that in mind, it seemed a little off to me that the principal of the school would not only endorse a reality TV dating show, but would see it as an acceptable tool to help increase enrollment for the next year. But once I got over that little hiccup in my suspension of disbelief I found this story so darn addicting that that momentary squirm in the beginning was barely a twitch compared with the smiles the rest of the story gave me.

McGee handles issues of Christian hypocrisy, anti-God sentiment, and inter-faith friendships with a light but steady hand, avoiding preachy passages for the most part while still making her characters' faith and feelings clear. Teens will appreciate the trueness of McGee's main characters and will identify with the difficulty Addy faces in being honest about her faith after having displayed a less-than-Christ-like attitude her first few days on the show.


Other than that brief moment of squirm at the very beginning, I found this book to be a touching, fun, edifying, campy, quick and downright delicious teen read. First Date is a great debut from an author who's sure to make a splash in the inspy YA market.

If you're not a fan of YA romance, or if you're looking for something deep to stretch your brain, this may not be the book for you. But if you're in need of a pure escapist read that sings with tender teen honesty, you'll fall in love with Krista McGee's Addy Davidson -- and her First Date.

(This review first posted at USA Today's romance fiction blog,Happy Ever After)


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