by Miranda Kenneally
To be published on July 5, 2016
by Sourcebooks Fire
Source: eARC from publisher for review
Summary from Goodreads: Captain of the soccer team, president of the Debate Club, contender for valedictorian: Taylor’s always pushed herself to be perfect. After all, that’s what is expected of a senator’s daughter. But one impulsive decision—one lie to cover for her boyfriend—and Taylor’s kicked out of private school. Everything she’s worked so hard for is gone, and now she’s starting over at Hundred Oaks High. Soccer has always been Taylor’s escape from the pressures of school and family, but it’s hard to fit in and play on a team that used to be her rival. The only person who seems to understand all that she’s going through is her older brother’s best friend, Ezra. Taylor’s had a crush on him for as long as she can remember. But it’s hard to trust after having been betrayed. Will Taylor repeat her past mistakes or can she score a fresh start?My take: I'm a big Miranda Kenneally fan. Her teen characters always feel authentic to me, and I've always thought she has an ear (and a soft spot) for characters who could easily be judged and misunderstood. She lets her characters make huge mistakes and lets us watch them deal with the consequences, whether it's a character who abandons a friend or flirts with a teacher, or in Defending Taylor, who makes a noble gesture that has all kinds of repercussions.
Taylor isn't a character who's initially easy to relate to - she's a privileged daughter of a senator, a girl who has had every possible advantage. When she impulsively decides to lie to protect her boyfriend (a guy who, as the book quickly reveals, isn't really worthy of her sacrifice) she gets kicked out of school, throws her famous family into the spotlight, and pretty much blows her comfortable life to smithereens.
I was surprised, then, that Taylor has the strength of character to tough it out and suck up the consequences of what she's done. I liked the fact that the story directly addresses the tremendous pressure that today's high school students are under to perform -- at school, in sports and extracurriculars, and in college admissions. (Thank you, Miranda Kenneally, for doing research into the college admissions process. The mistakes that many authors make are obvious to teen readers!)
I was also really touched by Kenneally's afterword, in which she talks about her own (past) workaholic and perfectionist tendencies and how she worked to conquer them. This is an issue that not enough girls and women discuss openly - the pressure to look picture-perfect (and perpetually popular) on Instagram and never break a sweat while balancing work, school, friends, and family.
Defending Taylor is a great addition to the Hundred Oaks companion books. This is a total standalone, but readers of prior books will find fun cameos by some favorite past characters.