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Four-Letter Word

Review

Four-Letter Word

Chloe Sanders has moved back to her hometown of Grinnell, Iowa, after spending a period of time in Burkina Faso, Africa, with her parents, who joined the Spirit Corps in order to do humanitarian service abroad. Since moving back to Grinnell and living with her grandparents, Chloe has had a relatively mundane life --- that is until Chloe Donnelly comes to town. She encourages the now dubbed “Other Chloe” and her friends to play a word game called Gestapo. When the stakes rise and the player’s secrets are on the line, Chloe Sanders and her crush, Mateo, team up to expose Chloe Donnelly.

"This book tackles topics such as friendship, sexuality, relationships and fitting into social circles. I definitely got Mean Girls vibes from this read, which could make it worth picking up for those that are a fan of the movie or the Broadway show."

The premise of FOUR-LETTER WORD sounds very intriguing at its surface, but ultimately it fell flat for me. Throughout playing the game Gestapo, all of the central characters’ secrets are revealed in one way or another. Desir notes the nagging fear all the characters have of being discovered and the serious ramifications they would have to face if their private lives were to become public. Despite this intense build up, the resolution of the story is relatively anticlimactic. There were some twists or turns around the way that I was initially intrigued by that kept me reading, but I don’t think they fit the suspenseful narrative that the author wanted to craft with this story. It feels like there is this disconnect between the intention and the outcome of the plot.

As a reader, I wanted to understand why Desir made the decisions she did in concluding her novel, but it felt like I was grasping at straws to find an answer. Logically, I would like to believe that Desir is trying to make the commentary that high schoolers tend to blow everything out of proportion. High school feels monumental. It’s a time to discover your identity, form relationships and make decisions. At the time, any worse case situation feels like the end of the world. It’s looking back on those moments that creates the realization of how small a fragment high school is in anybody’s lifespan. As someone who has plenty of experience in this area, I think the message could have been better delivered.

This book also contains lots of sexual content. In high school, many teenagers are going through their first relationships. This obviously means a decent amount of exploration about sex and masturbation. As someone who gets really uncomfortable really quickly reading about these types of topics, I was cringing throughout much of the novel. I will say that I should have done more research before diving into a book that dealt with content that I do not enjoy reading. Regardless of the fact that this particular area of the novel was not my favorite, Desir does a masterful job of crafting an honest character arc that delves into this realm. According to her bio, Desir has been a rape victim activist for over 20 years. She has worked to provide advocacy services in hospital ERs and she has met and spoken with high school and college students about sexual violence, some of whom were even incarcerated survivors. All of this experience is naturally going to lend well in crafting a YA novel that speaks to these topics. The journey that Chloe goes through in being comfortable having sex for the first time feels real to the encounters that all teens have in going through this same struggle.

While I do not believe this book was perfect for me, I know that there is an audience out there that could really enjoy FOUR-LETTER WORD. This book tackles topics such as friendship, sexuality, relationships and fitting into social circles. I definitely got Mean Girls vibes from this read, which could make it worth picking up for those that are a fan of the movie or the Broadway show.

Reviewed by Gabby B., Teen Board Member on August 8, 2018

Four-Letter Word
by C. Desir