Title: The Field Guide to the North American Teenager
Author: Ben Philippe
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publishing Date: 2019
Genre/Format of the Item: Book
2020 William C. Morris YA Debut Award
Reading Level/Interest Level:
Grades 7-12 (NoveList)
Plot Summary: Norris Kaplan’s arrival in Austin, Texas is bathed in sweat and hesitation. Norris, a Black French Canadian transplant, has very low expectations of his new home and the peers that he is surrounded by. Norris finds solace in writing down his stereotyped first impressions of his classmates in a journal given to him by his guidance counselor. Norris resists every attempt to connect with his peers initially. Slowly, he comes to realize that the people that he goes to school with are more than what they appear and with that he begins to make a few friends. His new friend Liam sets up a hockey team and Norris finally starts to feel at home. Suddenly he has a job, a girl to go out with, and a date to prom. What could go wrong? A lot apparently. Norris must learn to face his own insecurities and find a way to navigate his new world.
Author Background: Ben Philippe has a B.A. from Columbia University and an M.F.A. in Fiction & Screenwriting from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas, Austin. He has been a contributor to the following publications: Vanity Fair, Observer, The A.V. Club, The Guardian, Playboy, and Thrillist. Philippe has also published short stories in Five Quartely, Louisiana Literature, and Bookanista. He is the author three books and is currently a screenwriter for the television show Only Murders in the Building (Philippe, n.d.).
Critical Evaluations: I really enjoyed this book. I think that a lot of teenagers will be able to identify with Norris’s stereotyped impressions of people and his insecurities. What I really appreciated about Philippe’s writing is that he addresses a lot of teenage issues with wit and humor, making the book very easy to read and the characters relatable. I feel as though Philippe is trying to make a point of giving every character a backstory and redeemable qualities. So often, teenagers will try to place people into predefined labels as a way to find their place in the world, but these labels are not always accurate or fair. I think that this is an award winning book that I would recommend to teenagers. Philippe also addresses the experience of a new student in the middle of a high school year, and the experience of a Black student in a predominantly white school and community. There are many important messages in the book and I thought that Philippe handled them with tact. Overall, this was a great book!
Creative Use for a Library Program: This book could be used in a writing workshop that is given to teens at a local library. The writing program would consist of 12 teenagers interested in writing. Teen would attend an evening program that is led by a local college writing professor. The book can be on display as a William C. Morris YA Debut Award Winner (an award for debut authors). The college professor can discuss the significance of the Morris Award during the writing workshop.
Speedround/Book Trailer: Norris Kaplan can’t believe that he, a French Canadian Black teenager, has ended up in Austin, Texas. His first impressions of his peers are not favorable, but as he settles into his new home he starts to realize that people don’t always fit into his preconceived stereotypes. The question is, will Kaplan realize his own insecurities in time to save his new friendships? Read The Field Guide to the North American Teenager to find out more!
Potential Challenge Issues/Defense Preparations: This book may present challenges to those who disagree with how Philippe portrayed the characters in the book. There are references to racial biases, mental health, and immigration that may bother some people. I would argue that Philippe addresses these stereotypes and finds a way to give his characters depth and personality. Jocks and cheerleaders are not just idiots, and loners are not to be cast aside. This book aims to reframe high school stereotypes and gives a voice to every character. I think that many teens will find the characters relatable and realistic.
Reason for Inclusion: I really enjoyed this novel and I think that it has an important message. Philippe explores the insecurities of teenagers and shows how first impressions may be deceiving. I think that having diverse characters and authors is important for any library, and I was happy to include this book as part of my collection.
Barnes & Noble. (2019, March 8). Ben Philippe on The field guide to the North American teenager [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMpc4EXoYMo
Epic Reads. (2019, January 31). High school stereotypes in YA?! | Ben Philippe reveals his top 5 [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dUuVzg8CVA
Philippe, B. (n.d.) About. Ben Philippe. http://benphilippe.com/about/