I don't know if I've ever read a book that better or as unselfconsciously captures the intimacy and idiosyncrasies of a high school clique. (Note--when I say "clique" I do not mean to imply snobbery or exclusivity, merely the phenomenon where teens create their own family of close friends.) Wanda Lowell and Dora Nussbaum, editors of the school's literary magazine Galaxy which is at the heart of the group's identity, are best friends and the leaders of the clique. Wanda and Dora are called the Wandora Unit because of their intense friendship and solidarity, though sometimes the term is not a tribute. Until their senior year of high school they never disagreed about anything. The Galaxy crew have inside jokes, think they are the funniest and smartest people in the world, and they are doomed.
This passage, where the students are on their way to an awards banquet captures the exuberance and the temporary nature of teen obsessions and friendship. "We just feel happy and full of fun, and we yell poems out the window. We pick poems out of each other's hair. Poems fill the bus invisibly. For an hour and a half the poems exist only as radio waves, moving through everything in complete silence."
A small press book from literary publisher Ghost Road Press was written by poet librarian Jessy Randall, this YA novel is not strictly linear. It's told in short episodes of varying styles, with the occasional guest voice supplementing Dora's first person narrative, a style that will appeal greatly to a non-traditional or inquisitive reader. Most of the poems throughout and at the end of the text are genuine high school poems from Randall's own high school literary magazine and other sources, which lends authenticity and variety. Randall doesn't necessarily need the help, though. She's got the high school vernacular down and doesn't succumb to the temptation to pepper it with an imagined slang, as other YA writers do with limited success.
The high school poems are so real that they're a little embarrassing to the reader who herself was a high school poet, but also charming and nostalgia producing. Dora reports, "Ms. Green says that poetry lets you have your feelings instead of your feelings having you. I write, hoping the truth about my life will rise to the top like marshmallows in hot chocolate powder when you shake the container."
Unlike many other teen novels with their broad strokes, all of the good characters are flawed in some way. No one is perfect, but the novel is pretty damned good. My only complaint is that it ends with the final version of Galaxy, rather than a final narrative. I tell you this to warn you that the story ends without a solid conclusion. Like with many poems you have to provide that yourself.