Having gone through my own very awkward teenage years during high school and then having gone back to my own high school to teach English (which had its mostly positives but some negatives because my brother’s friends who had not graduated yet would text him about the quality of my lessons), I was impressed with Redgate’s ability to capture the ethos of the variety of high schoolers about which she writes.
The piece revolves around seven teenagers at a rural high school where administrators are trying to get to the bottom of a report they heard about a student-teacher relationship. Against this rather conservative backdrop of a school where a school play is about to open, each of the characters take turns moving the narrative forward through first-person narrations. These narrations reveal each character’s knowledge (or lack thereof) of the student-teacher relationship but also his or her struggles with a variety of challenges (e.g., parents’ divorce, sexuality, unrequited love, and strained friendships). Readers will recognize their peers – or perhaps themselves – in each of the seven teenagers Redgate creates.
Each of the teenagers are ‘playing a role,’ portraying a particular persona to outsiders for a variety of reasons. Intertwined in varying degrees, Redgate’s characters are well developed – if only at times a bit cliched. It was a bit difficult for me to follow each of the character’s unique voices at first, but it became easier for me as the text progressed. I’ve read that there are plans for a Seven Ways movie, and I think it will be interesting to see how the director brings the seven characters to life on the screen.
It’s actually hard to write a plot summary without providing too much of the text’s substance and mystery. Olivia and Kat Scott are sisters who are struggling through their parents’ breakup in their unique and disparate ways. Claire is upset because Lucas broke up with her for a reason she was not expecting. Olivia and Claire’s friend Juniper struggles with alcohol. Valentine, the school counselor’s son, has a secret he does not want out. And then there’s Matt, who is struggling with his own family situation, especially how his parents treat his little brother.
Even though I noticed the occasional writerly flair for the dramatic and some dialogue I thought was more Redgate’s voice than her characters’, the teenagers are impressively authentic. I was impressed with the poetic language that existed both in Redgate’s prose and the poetry she writes for Juniper. I actually wanted to see more of the poetry.
Redgate has the following quote on her webpage, and I think it helps readers understand Redgate’s purpose with Seven Ways We Lie so exactly: “I write books about foulmouthed teenagers who are doing the best they can.”
This book is raw and real, and I think young adults will enjoy it. I was left wondering about all of the lies we tell each day in order to enact a particular persona we have created for ourselves. The teenagers in Seven Ways are not perfect. And neither are the adults. And, quite honestly, neither are we. And somehow in this crazy world we have to be okay with that.