Book Review: Character, Driven
By: David Lubar
Published by: Tor Teen
Release date: March 1, 2016
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: hard copy kindly provided by publisher
This book will appear on my “Best of 2016” list. I would venture to say that, if that list were to be based only on the last 20 pages of the books I read, it would hold the #1 spot.
Look beyond the fact that Cliff is a fictional character, and I can truthfully tell you, “I know this kid.” Cliff represents so many students I have known in my 20+ years of teaching. He represents several of the kids who inspired me to become a school counselor. He, like many of the kids walking the hallowed halls of public education, has too many obstacles to deal with, and not enough resources. Any teenager is going to be able to identify with him, or at least identify their classmates in him.
Knowing that his life is not what it should be, though, doesn’t make Cliff pitiful. He’s interesting, despite the monotony of daily life. He’s effortlessly funny, he’s boldly kind, he’s endlessly patient, and he’s intellectually curious. He’s walking, talking potential, wrapped in three layers of duct tape. It’s going to take some help and some real effort, but what’s inside is truly a valuable gift. The few who bother to get to know him are rewarded; he’s a great example of what a good friend should be.
Every character in this book is dealing with something, which makes it valuably realistic. Cliff is able to see that even those who are supposed to be infallible aren’t, and is given the opportunity to hold them responsible and/or forgive them. He paints himself as an everyday loser at the beginning of the novel, and develops into a true hero through his interactions with others.
Word of caution to those who might be offended by explicit content. There is a scene that you may want to skip. You’ll know it when you get there.
This isn’t a great adventure. It isn’t, at its center, a romance. It isn’t really even a tragedy. It’s just honest. And I honestly loved it.
“Call me Cliff. By an accident of birth, I am well named for this story. Think about it. Cliff. Precipice. Edge. There you have it. I’m Cliff. Cliff Sparks.”
With only one year left of high school, seventeen-year-old Cliff Sparks is desperate to “come of age”―and find a girlfriend. But he’s never had much luck with girls. So when he falls for Jillian, a new classmate, at first sight, all he can do is worship her from afar. At the same time, Cliff has to figure out what to do with the rest of his life, since he’s pretty sure his unemployed father plans to kick him out of the house the minute he turns eighteen.
Time is running out for Cliff. He’s at the edge, on the verge, dangling―and holding on for dear life.