Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Release Day Review: Lexapros and Cons by Aaron Karo

Publisher:  Farrar, Straus, & Giroux BYR
Publication Date:  April 10th, 2012

Chuck Taylor’s OCD has rendered him a high school outcast. His endless routines and habitual hand washing threaten to scare away both his closest friend and the amazing new girl in town. Sure he happens to share the name of the icon behind the coolest sneakers in the world, but even Chuck knows his bizarre system of wearing different color “Cons” depending on his mood is completely crazy.

In this hilariously candid debut novel from comedian Aaron Karo—who grew up with a few obsessions and compulsions of his own—very bad things are going to happen to Chuck. But maybe that’s a good thing. Because with graduation looming, Chuck finds himself with one last chance to face his inner demons, defend his best friend, and win over the girl of his dreams. No matter what happens, though, he’ll have to get his hands dirty.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

First off, I need to comment on the cover... It is awesome.  I love eye-catching covers on YA books, and although this one is ridiculously simple, it totally fits the story.  Also, I love my Chucks (although I am a fan of the low-tops, not the high-top like the protagonist in this book)- I have them in lots of bright colors and they are my staple when it's too cold for flip-flops, so obviously, I'm going to read a book that features my favorite footwear on the cover...  Now that I've commented on that, I can review the actual content between the covers.

If the 2012 debut authors were a baseball league, Team Humor would definitely be leading in the rankings.  They seem to be be hitting home run after home run.  First there was Jesse Andrews's brilliantly funny Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (review HERE), then Gina Damico's uniquely snarky Croak (review HERE), and now this book, Lexapros and Cons.  I have laughed to the point of peeing so many times in the first three months of 2012 that I am thinking I might need to buy a package of Depends...  Anyway, what I am getting at is that Aaron Karo has nailed it with his YA debut.

Lexapros and Cons is the hilarious account of a teenage boy with OCD.   Chuck Taylor has some very real compulsions, and while I found myself laughing at the behaviors, and Chuck's thoughts on them, I never felt like I was laughing at the actual disorder or poking fun at people with it.  This book was very balanced in that it showed respect for a very real and often debilitating condition, while finding humor in the character's behaviors and reactions to them.  Chuck finds out he has OCD through Wikipedia after he starts thinking that a certain compulsion of his is particularly strange.  When he realizes he has a "textbook" case of OCD, he tells his mom, who in turn, arranges for him to meet with a shrink.  During the same timeframe, Chuck meets the girl of his dreams AND has to come to grips with the fact that the Senior Weekend he had been looking forward to since 9th grade is going to a camping trip- with dirt and bugs and grass (gasp!).  He's got a lot going on, and during it all he begins to work on overcoming his compulsions...

I have to say, I loved Chuck!  I felt bad for him sometimes because he kind of talks himself into being a much bigger dork than I think he actually would be, and of course, his compulsions kind of suck, but I thought Chuck was a pretty cool guy in a very unconventional way.  He's smart, witty, and his internal dialogue cracked me up.  I also enjoyed his best friend Steve Sludgelacker, and his only other friend Kanha.  Steve is a bigger dork than Chuck, but with a  last name like Sludgelacker, did he ever stand a chance? (For the record, I would have changed my last name before I had children.)  Steve kind of provided balance for Chuck, mostly through distraction, and was just really an all-around good friend.  Kanha provided a lot of non-OCD centered comic relief.  The love interest, Amy, was sweet; the kind of hippie-dippy, positive type of person that everyone can't help but love.  My favorite character, after Chuck though, was Dr. Srinivasan.  Definitely an accurate caricature of an Indian psychiatrist, she made me laugh.  I found myself reading her dialogue in exactly the accent that Chuck describes, and it was perfect.

As for the story, it was very fun.  It did have a few crude moments, but if a book about a teenage boy and his compulsions didn't, it wouldn't be based in reality at all, so those are forgiven.  It felt very real to me and although I felt like the ending was a little too neat, I liked it.  It was sweet and left me feeling really good.  All in all, I think that this book well lived up to its great cover!  If you're looking for a feel-good story that will make you laugh, go ahead and pick up a copy of this one.  You won't be sorry you did.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  I should first say that this book will be most appealing to boys.  Some girls will enjoy it, but most will probably think it's too crude for their taste.  There is definitely some crudeness (one of Chuck's compulsions to to keep an annual tally of the number of times he masturbates), lots of talk about various girls and their boobs, and a mention or two of porn.  There are also some swears here and there, including a few f-bombs.  That said, every middle-school age boy masturbates, admires most of the boobs that pass by him, thinks about porn, and swears...  Still, most parents aren't going to want their "babies" reading about these things.  I'm going to say 8th grade and up (ages 13+) for that reason.

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