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I Belong

Review: How to Win at High School by Owen Matthews

How to Win at High SchoolTitle: How to Win at High School

AuthorOwen Matthews

Genre: YA Contemporary


Publication Date: March 3, 2015

Format: Hardcover, 528 Pages

ISBN-10: 006233686X (HarperTeen)

ISBN-13: 978-0062336866 (HarperTeen)

Reviewed by: Kaitlin


Adam Higgs is a loser, and he’s not okay with it.

But starting as a junior in a new high school seems like exactly the right time to change things. He brainstorms with his best friend, Brian: What will it take for him to take over Nixon Collegiate? Adam searches for the A-listers’ weak spot and strikes gold when he gets queen bee Sara Bryant to pay him for doing her physics homework. One part nerd, two parts badass, Adam ditches his legit job and turns to full-time cheating. His clients? All the Nixon Collegiate gods and goddesses.

But soon his homework business becomes a booze business, which becomes a fake ID business. Adam’s popularity soars as he unlocks high school achievements left and right, from his first kiss to his first rebound hookup. But something else is haunting him—a dark memory from his past, driving him to keep climbing. What is it? And will he go too far?

How to Win at High School‘s honest picture of high school hierarchy combines with an over-the-top, adrenaline-charged story line, and Adam’s rocket ride to the top of the social order (and his subsequent flameout) is by turns bawdy and sweetly emotional.

Quick & Dirty: This was an easy read and I related to the main character.

Opening Sentence: Adam Higgs is a loser.

Excerpt: Yes

The Review:

Adam Higgs is a loser. His brother, Sam Higgs, is a cripple. The only one in the family that is getting what she wants is their sister, a freshman, already the top of the food chain at their new high school. Adam is ready to become popular, and with a few parties and more than a few risks, he thinks he can be upgraded from Pizza Man to The Man. He’ll step on a few people. But nothing will get in his way.

I’ve been in a contemporary phase, which means I’ve been tearing through this genre. This also means this is the last of my review books that is contemporary, so I can no longer be productive about my contemporary binging. Sigh. Since I do follow Twitter, I was surprised to see that no one I followed had read it before me. Weird. I had no expectations except the Goodreads reviews, which were generally complementary. Therefore, I had a lot of hope riding on this book, which I saved for last, a final contemporary. I am happy to report back to you that I finished all five hundred pages within a few hours. It was good — very good. I’m going to let everyone know that this is definitely worth the read.

This book was an interesting form of prose. The style was third person. Usually, that might turn me off, as first person allows more connection with the character, in my opinion. But for this story it was definitely the right course of action! Anyway, the writing was like poetry in the uneven spacing and sometimes fragmented thoughts. I loved it. I have to admit, those five hundred pages (seven hundred on my e-reader), were it condensed to normal paragraph form, would have been shortened considerably. No one should be turned off by the size of the book. I promise, it isn’t as daunting as it first appears. The poetic writing style was raw, simple, but touching. It could break me with a single sentence.

In the book, Adam goes from loser to the most popular in school with a series of steps. He takes chances — he takes risks. I liked that about the character, that he was nervous, but not nervous enough to back down. Now, from a student’s point of view, a lot of what he did was not moral or ethical (in any way, shape, or form.) He does a lot of stuff I did not approve of. It starts off as a goal — he needed to get to the top, he needed to prove that he was more than a loser, but by the end, it was more of an obsession. The more harmless tricks he’s using to get in with the crowd get tossed aside for worse things — stealing finals, selling drugs. Strangely enough, I still found him likeable. One thing that I wish that the book had delivered better was development. He doesn’t really learn his lesson until the last ten pages, and even then, it isn’t fully explained what he’s learned.

Altogether, this book pleasantly surprised me in it’s interesting narrative form and well-paced plotline. I liked the subplot of Adam’s brother, Sam. He started out as Adam’s motivation to become more popular and well-liked. Then he became an excuse, as his risks became, well, riskier — “I’m doing it for Sam!” One of the moments for me that made me the most angry, the most disappointed, was a scene with Sam. But this book definitely toyed with my feelings, and it did it well. I think that people who enjoyed Falling Into Place (a novel with a character that can be considered unlikeable, and a popularity pyramid similar to Adam’s) might find a good read in How to Win at High School as well!

Notable Scene:

a) He doesn’t really want to hurt anyone.

b) He doesn’t really want to be dead.

That destructive shit, it’s the wrong vibe. Not even an option. It’s like, your thirsty, you don’t blow up the water fountain. You sure as hell don’t slit your wrists.

You’re thirsty? You fucking fight your way up to that water fountain and you drink, motherfucker. You quench your thirst.

Adam’s thirsty.

He’s ready to drink.


FTC Advisory: HarperTeen provided me with a copy of How to Win at High School. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.


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