The Field Guide to the North American Teenager
Philippe, Ben. (2018). The Field Guide to the North American Teenager. New York, NY: Balzer + Bray. 372 pages.
Audience – Grades 8+
Kayla Hlad (she/her)
MLIS Student, Kent State University iSchool
The Field Guide to the North American Teenager is teen romance and high school drama at its best. In addition to dealing with his parents’ divorce, Norris is starting out at a new high school in Austin, Texas. Before he even steps inside the school’s building he’s sure that he’ll be treated as an unwelcome outsider; he’s a new student, Canadian, bilingual, black, and a child of immigrants from Haiti. So he’s quick to put up his defenses, cleverly putting down everything and everyone before they have the chance to reject him. But once Noris discovers that he has feelings for Maddie, the cheerleader that’s been helping him land another girl, his harsh words come back to hurt him.
The plot is fairly predictable, but there’s a reason these plot elements are so popular with teens: the high school drama is relatable, makes for a pleasant leisure read, and always ends with a positive note. Moreover, this predictability is easily overlooked with the help of Phillipe’s expert pacing and his exploration of weighty issues such as the complexities of being a child of divorce, the parental pressures that come with being a child of immigrants, and having a friend who is suffering from depression. But what truly takes Phillippe’s novel noteworthy is its representation of a young black teen’s perspective, a much-needed contribution to this genre. Furthermore, Norris’ sharp wit, dedication to his mother, and commendable work ethic at his job and with his relationships are incredibly alluring to readers. Any teen that enjoys a good high school drama will absolutely love Phillippe’s take.