Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer

Title:  Rival
Author:  Sara Bennett Wealer
Summary:  Brooke "I don't like Kathryn Pease. I could pretend everything's fine between us. I could be nice to her face, then trash her behind her back. But I think it's better to be honest. I don't like Kathryn, and I'm not afraid to admit it."  Kathryn "I saw a commercial where singers used their voices to shatter glass, but the whole thing is pretty much a myth. The human voice isn't that strong. Human hatred is. Anybody who doubts that should feel the hate waves coming off of Brooke Dempsey. But I don't shatter; I'm not made of glass. Anyway, the parts that break aren't on the outside."

Brooke and Kathryn used to be best friends...until the night when Brooke ruthlessly turned on Kathryn in front of everyone. Suddenly Kathryn was an outcast and Brooke was Queen B. Now, as they prepare to face off one last time, each girl must come to terms with the fact that the person she hates most might just be the best friend she ever had.

The Dish:  There were definitely two reasons I had in mind when I chose to pick up Rival; the cover is absolutely gorgeous and the summary brought back a lot of memories.  Fortunately, my times in high school choir were some of the best times I had, and though my best friend and I were competitive, it was definitely not to the extent of Brooke and Kathryn.  I had to know what would turn two girls against each other in such a way when both shared such a love of music and performing.  What I got from the story was much deeper than a music competition between two former best friends turned heated rivals.

Kathryn and Brooke couldn't be more opposite when it comes to their lives.  Kathryn has been more of a wallflower within their high school, active while at the same time not within the spotlight.  She focuses on her schoolwork and music in order to help ease the financial burdens placed on her family.  On the other hand, Brooke has always been within the limelight at high school, mostly due to her older brothers' presence.  But there is an authority that resonates from her that has the entire school in awe of her, though not for what she is most proud of, namely music.  If not for music and then a slumber party during their junior year, it's doubtful that their paths would have really crossed, leading to their friendship.

It is when that friendship extends to Brooke's long-time best friend, Chloe, that things begin to weaken due to Kathryn's acceptance into the "A-list" circle and not spending as much time with just Brooke.  As Chloe seems to monopolize more of Kathryn's time, Brooke begins to question her relationship with Kathryn.  Their strained friendship ultimately culminates in Kathryn doing "something very bad" to Brooke which then leads to a punch in the face in front of the entire A-list at school.  And with that punch, Brooke has sent Kathryn back to the outskirts of the student body.

Now, here is where readers might start complaining about how both girls did fairly rotten things to each other, but you have to remember, these are teenage girls.  They do stupid things because they are teenagers and they don't know how to handle certain actions, slights, or behaviors.  Who didn't want to belong with the "A-list," the popular crowd in high school?  Kathryn was just one of those few that wanted to belong, and when she got the chance she did what she could to stay there.  Brooke could have explained her feelings to Kathryn about a lot of things or at least tried to be more open, but she chose to go the silent route until it built up so much she exploded.  I'm not trying to condone Kathryn's actions or Brooke's inaction rather I'm putting into perspective the reality that Wealer has created, and I do believe she has captured a part of high school life.

What I really liked about both characters is that they possess honest and real voices, each seeing the greener grass on the other side of the fence even after their friendship falls apart.  Kathryn and Brooke see what they lack within the other's life and cannot understand why that goodness isn't appreciated, such as Kathryn's loving parents or Brooke's freedom in socializing.  But when it comes to music there is no question about how much it means to either of them, and both girls do not hold back in choir.

Readers will definitely see Wealer's own love of music woven into the story, and that was what really drew me to Rival in the first place.  The use of musical terminology definitions to set up the tone of the story was a nice opening to each part whether from senior year or junior year.  While reading, I couldn't help feeling that if Brooke and Kathryn had just started talking while in choir during their junior year, just the two of them, a lot of heartache and hurt might have been avoided in the long run.  With their love of music, one would assume that Brooke might have approached Kathryn to initiate conversation, but perhaps even the high school socialite lacked courage in that regard.

Overall, Wealer delivered a great story of the trials that can occur with relationships in high school through characters that felt real and also managed to grow throughout the story.  I think most readers would enjoy Rival, and readers who have a musical background, especially while in high school, will hopefully appreciate the nostalgia as I did.


  1. Wow! Sounds like a good one! Did you buy it or get it from th library?

  2. @ Karen: I bought it from Book Depository since it was such a good price. :) I might see about ordering a copy for the library.


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