Audiobook Review: Sway by Kat Spears

I grabbed a bunch of audiobooks before Mister BS and I headed on a weekend roadtrip to a wedding. This is the one he chose to start, and it was a good life decision. We both loved the voice of the main character, the frank language and relatable plot, and the narration by Nick Poedhl perfectly complimented the story.

Sway by Kat Spear
Published: September 16th 2014 by St. Martin’s Griffin/Macmillan/Brillance Audio
Source: ARC from publisher and audiobook from local library
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | Library
Genre: young adult contemporary, young adult romance

Synopsis: In Kat Spears’s hilarious and often poignant debut, high school senior Jesse Alderman, or “Sway,” as he’s known, could sell hell to a bishop. He also specializes in getting things people want—term papers, a date with the prom queen, fake IDs. He has few close friends and he never EVER lets emotions get in the way. For Jesse, life is simply a series of business transactions.

But when Ken Foster, captain of the football team, leading candidate for homecoming king, and all-around jerk, hires Jesse to help him win the heart of the angelic Bridget Smalley, Jesse finds himself feeling all sorts of things. While following Bridget and learning the intimate details of her life, he falls helplessly in love for the very first time. He also finds himself in an accidental friendship with Bridget’s belligerent and self-pitying younger brother who has cerebral palsy. Suddenly, Jesse is visiting old folks at a nursing home in order to run into Bridget, and offering his time to help the less fortunate, all the while developing a bond with this young man who idolizes him. Could the tin man really have a heart after all?

A Cyrano de Bergerac story with amodern twist, Sway is told from Jesse’s point of view with unapologetic truth and biting humor, his observations about the world around him untempered by empathy or compassion—until Bridget’s presence in his life forces him to confront his quiet devastation over a life-changing event a year earlier and maybe, just maybe, feel something again.sway by kat spears

My thoughts: Jesse is a truly vile character, and yet, I still found myself fascinated with his story, intrigued by his worldview, and even charmed by him. His voice was so candid and yet guarded, and he was so self-aware but also completely ignorant. Jesse was a study in contradictions, and I really enjoyed this book.

The secondary characters shone. Jesse’s “sidekicks”, Paul, his crush’s brother who has cerebral palsy, and Mr. Dunkelman, the grumpy old man who agrees to pose as Jesse’s grandfather, were delightful. The dialogue was excellent. The conversations never felt dull and the banter was often witty and amusing. Jesse’s interiority was similarly engaging.

The plot progressed nicely, and I do feel that Jesse experienced growth as a character, even if he didn’t transform into a nice guy. I was disappointed in the ending—I think the Spears hat the opportunity to be bold and not offer any sort of redemption or reward, but hey, I still enjoyed the story even if I would have tied things up differently (and started things differently as well—still not convinced prologues are ever necessary).

This is not a book I would hand to just any teenager. It’s full of profanity, and offensive, judgmental, non-politically correct observations about race and religion and disability. It’s full of casual sex and drug use and law-breaking and the real experiences of some teenagers. All of these incidents were authentic to the character and essential to the plot, so I don’t think they were gratuitous, but many readers would be immediately turned off by them.

But underneath the sordid details of the life of one teenage boy, there are real issues. Jesse’s grief and loss, his resentment of his parents, and his jaded worldview will resonate with many teens. Readers may also identify with Bridget, a girl who has been constructed as “nice” and who may genuinely be “nice” but is also a real person with complex emotions and responses and (gasp!) even a sense of humor, just one that not a lot of people take the time to see. I’m not sure how others will see the portrayal of a character with a disability, but I thought that Spears humanized Paul without objectifying him or reducing him to nothing more than his cerebral palsy.

The Macmillan publicist at ALA insisted I take a copy of this, but I’m glad I waited to listen to the audio version, because I think the production and narration were exceedingly well done and greatly contributed to my enjoyment of the story.

Sway by Kat Spears is refreshingly different, and I’m really glad I chose to read it. I look forward to more books by Kat Spears in the future.

Recommended for fans of: Protagonists that are often deemed “unlikeable”

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