From Revenge of the Nerds to Mean Girls, our cinema history is filled with tales of teens who manage to find a way to overcome some perceived disadvantage to become popular. Now, Owen Matthews’ debut Young Adult book – How to Win at High School – gives readers the novel equivalent of those “underdog makes good” films.

How to Win at High School is the story of Adam Higgs. Adam has never been popular in school, but when circumstances require that he begin his junior year in a new school, he realizes this is the perfect opportunity for a reinvention of his persona.

In order to do this, he needs to determine what the students of Nixon Collegiate need the most – and then provide it. Adam quickly stumbles upon the idea to provide homework assistance – which basically amounts to him doing homework for others – and thus, his rise to the top begins. Unfortunately for Adam, each rung on the social ladder requires more complex felonious behavior.

Watching Adam descend into this illegal underbelly as he ascends in popularity is what keeps readers turning the pages. Even as readers know that what he is doing is wrong, it is impossible to resist cheering Adam on. Who among us has not felt like a completely outsider at one time or another in our lives? Given that the film Scarface is one of Adam’s “role models,” no good can ultimately result from this social ascension.

Owen Matthews has written an impulsively readable novel in How to Win at High School. With some chapters having only a few lines of text, the pages turn faster than a bullet from a gun. The writing is lyrical and at times feels more like poetry than prose. If there is any fault to be found in this style, it is that it does not allow for much deep character development for anyone other than the protagonist, Adam Higgs. But, then this is Adam’s story, so many Young Adult fans will not see this as a flaw.

Owen Matthews is a pseudonym for successful thriller author Owen Laukkanen, so it is no surprise that How to Win a High School feels very much like it was written by a veteran of the business. Action sequences play out like on-screen montages and the propulsive nature of each launch the reader from one chapter to the next. How to Win at High School could easily become the cinematic equivalent of a The CW television series.

It is impossible to condone Adam Higgs’ behavior and yet, it is so damn fun to read about how he is able to successfully reinvent himself. Give How to Win at High School a try, but you might want to think twice before passing it along to your children. On second thought, doing so just might make you the “cool parent” – for a few days at least.


Disclaimer:  An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.