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The Field Guide to the North American Teenager

Review

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager

THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER is author Ben Philippe’s debut novel. The book is a light-hearted story about a Haitian-Canadian teen’s experience moving to Austin, Texas, in his junior year of high school.

Norris Kaplan is (understandably) nervous and upset to move to Austin from Montreal after his mom, Judith, gets a job as a professor at UT Austin. From stepping foot off the plane in Texas, Norris can tell this place is not for him; no one recognizes his Canadiens of Montreal t-shirt and he’s sweating buckets in the desert.

When he starts junior year at Anderson High School, he spends his days writing observations about his peers in a yellow journal given to him by his overly friendly guidance counselor, Mrs. Kolb. Norris isn’t keen to make friends at the start and ends up accidentally making some enemies instead; pretty soon, the entire cheerleading squad has it out for him after an unfortunate incident in the gym, and Patrick “Hairy Armpits” Lamarra pushes him down a flight of stairs.

"Chock-full of humor....Philippe does an excellent job creating dynamic, interesting characters and showcasing the world through Norris’s eyes..."

It’s not all bad though, as Norris soon gets a job at The Bone Yard, a restaurant owned by the McElwees family (Madison McElwees is a member of the aforementioned cheerleading squad) to save up for a ski trip to Whistler with his best friend from Montreal, Eric, and soon becomes friends with Madison, who helps him navigate his crush on Aarti Puri, an artsy, mysterious, photography-loving girl in his grade. Over the course of the novel, Norris finds friends and makes the most of his time in Austin, realizing that maybe the place isn’t quite as bad as he thought.

THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER is chock-full of humor right from the start; Norris’s musings about his peers and others in Austin are not to be missed, but the novel is a bit slow. Ben Philippe does an excellent job creating dynamic, interesting characters and showcasing the world through Norris’s eyes, and while I was very interested in the novel by the time I got to the second half, the beginning and middle of the book is a bit harder to get through. The writing style itself is very good, there’s a nice balance between it being funny and well-written and it does a good job of portraying the world through a teenager’s point of view. Philippe also is able to explore numerous different aspects of what makes Norris without anything feeling out of place; the fact that Norris is a child of immigrants, the fact that he loves hockey, the fact that he’s black and the fact that he is hilariously sarcastic are all included in the novel and serve to create a very interesting and realistic protagonist. In THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER, Ben Philippe incorporates many common teenage struggles and none of feels unrealistic. Overall, the novel is interesting and good, despite a slow beginning.

Fans of contemporary and coming-of-age novels will certainly find THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER enjoyable, but so will anyone who is looking for a book that’s a little more lighthearted and funny!

Reviewed by Ansley K., Teen Board Member on January 29, 2019

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager
by Ben Philippe