Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Galgorithm by Aaron Karo

"The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost."

Galgorithm is a romantic comedy about a high school student who spends his senior year as a dating coach only to see it backfire in a way he never expected.

On the outside seventeen year old Shane Chambliss is a typical senior at Kingsview High School in Los Angeles. But on the inside he's much more; he's a guy who knows how girls think and act. He's spent the last few years carefully studying interactions between the guys and girls in his high school and has come up with a system to help guys succeed in the dating game. He calls his formula, which outlines the laws of attraction as the Galgorithm because Shane's father refers to women as "gals". The Galgorithm is top secret.

Shane's best friend is a black girl, Jennifer Annabelle Kalkland, better known as Jak whom he's known her since they were young enough to share a bath. Their moms are best friends.  Jak knows that Shane helps a few guys get dates with girls but she does not know about the Galgorithm because Shane is scared she will judge him. They have both been accepted for college in the fall but will be a thousand miles away from each other, something that causes Shane to be anxious about. "I probably won't miss all her antics when we go away to school, but I'll definitely miss her Jakness - her quick draw with a joke, her oddly endearing anxieties, her energy."

One of Shane's clients is Reed Wannamaker, a skinny junior whose desperate to date Marisol Cuellar. Shane encourages Reed to follow through on his initial contact with Marisol. Reed decided that in order to follow the first of Shane's rules which is to be different, he would hit Marisol with a tennis ball during gym class, providing him with the chance to go up and talk to her. This worked better than he anticipated because Harrison Fisk, a senior who is the starting pitcher for the baseball team punched Reed in the face. Marisol accepted Reed's friend request.

One of Shane's success stories is Anthony McGuinness and Brooke Nast, also known as Hedgehog and Balloon. They've been dating for six months after Shane helped Anthony who had been crushing on Brooke since fifth grade to finally get together with her. Now they want to set up Shane with Tristan Kellog, the It girl from the junior class. But Shane is still recovering from his break-up with a girl two years older than himself whom he calls Voldemort.

However Shane finds himself advising Mr. Kimbrough, the grade ten math teacher. In his early thirties, Kimbrough tells Shane he's heard that he is an expert in dating and romance and that he's noticed Shane advising Adam Foster. Shane in fact did help Adam start to date Olivia Reyes. He also tells Shane he's heard about an algorithm. While Shane tells Mr. Kimbrough he's not a dating expert he does agree to help him.Kimbrough indicates that he is crushing on Deb Solomon, a history teacher, whom he considers to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Shane advised Mr. Kimbrough to trick Miss Solomon into believing he is asking numerous teachers if they want to attend a Civil War exhibit.

Shane tells Jak about Hedgehog and Balloon setting him up with Tristen Kellog and she agrees that he should date Tristen. His initial impression of Tristen who's very pretty is that she might not have much substance to her. But he quickly discovers that she's leading a Habitat for Humanity trip to the Midwest to build homes for those who lost them due to tornadoes.

While Shane continues to advise Mr. Kimbrough and Reed and help Adam deal with being dumped by Olivia, he also struggles to cope with dating Tristen. In order to  help Adam out of his funk, Shane tells Adam to "find that girl you have a crush on, go right up to her, and do your thing."  However, one day when Shane and Jak are at lunch, Shane is stunned to see Adam making a move on Jak. He realizes that Adam is using the galgorithm on his best friend. Although he tries to seem noncommittal, Shane tries "to push any uneasiness...deep, deep down, as far as it will go."

The next day Shane runs into Adam at Perkin's Beanery waiting for Jak to show up. It turns out both guys are waiting to meet Jak and Shane realizes that Jak asked him to show up later in case she needed to bail from her date with Adam. Shane is peeved that Adam didn't tell him about crushing on Jak but he behaves diplomatically and leaves the two of them However, he does recognize Jak's disappointment while he realizes that Adam is a lucky guy dating Jak. Even though Shane and Tristen are now an "item" Shane can't quite get used to his best friend seeing another guy. It isn't until Shane rescues a very drunk Jak from her first keg party that he begins to realize that he has "feelings" for her.


Galgorithm is a fun summer read about the hazards of friendship, dating and falling in love. The focus is on the main character, Shane Chambliss who fancies himself as a sort of expert in interactions between guys and gals,"the Robin Hood of romance" who evens "the playing field between the jocks and the have-nots." In order to give teen guys a dose of confidence he tells them he has worked out an algorithm that predicts the behaviour of girls. In fact, the "galgorithm" as he calls it, is fictitious, as he reveals later on in the novel. His system seems to be working until Mr. Kimbrough publishes his own "galgorithm" on his blog and it is discovered by one of the students. The resulting chaos sees relationships crash as the female half of all the couples believe they have been manipulated. Eventually though some of the couples like Hedgehog and Balloon come to realize that it's not so much about how they got together but that they are together. It's the message Shane's parents were trying to impart to him when they finally told him the truth about how they met. They met in an unromantic way and felt they had to create a different story for how they fell in love. It's a lesson Shane himself will soon experience with Jak.

Set against Shane's sometimes hilarious narration is his gradual realization that he has fallen for his best friend. This realization brings both terror and dismay because of Jak's response after his break up with Faith years ago made Jak insist they would never get involved romantically. "In the wake of Voldemort, Jak told me explicitly that this was a line she would not cross. We will never be more than friends. She's been consistent about that point ever since."

This leaves Shane deeply conflicted especially after his feelings for Jak persist even when she's at her worst, vomiting on him in the bathtub after the keg party. "I thought that maybe I just had a moment of weakness in the bathtub. Maybe I was just a little buzzed. But when I woke up the next morning, my feelings for Jak, whatever they are, were still there. I don't really know what they mean and I don't even know if they're real." Compounding his confusion is his relationship with Tristen, who is very understanding and finds Shane to be "sweet" and "loyal". Shane knows after his break-up with Faith that he's been guarding his heart but now he wonders, "But what if, in the course of protecting myself, in the course of finding other people their soul mates, I miss the real thing?"

It takes other people to confirm to Shane what he feels - his ex-girlfriend, Faith who tells him he was so obviously in love with Jak, Adam who recognized that Shane loved Jak and backed off, and Reed who tells him "I've never seen two 'friends' who more obviously want to hook up." Shane is only certain of his feelings after he is in danger of losing Jak for good. Reed who decides to take over Shane's role as dating coach, gives Shane a dose of his own advice, be different, notice her, tell her.

Galgorithm is appealing because it's a story about a group of high school students trying to navigate the treacherously fickle world of teenage dating. Karo describes the high school scene with a certain flair, making it realistic in some ways yet over the top in others. (How many teachers come to a senior guy for dating advice?)  There is a whole cast of very different characters in the novel from Shane the sensitive, caring guy, Jak the irreverant witty best friend,  Harrison the jock struggling to cope with the bullying his two moms have experienced, Tristen the gorgeous, sexy junior who actually does have a personality, timid Mr. Kimbrough the bumbling math teacher who has the hots for Miss Solomon and Reed the skinny Dungeons and Dragons geek.The typical teenage boy humour will have readers laughing out loud while leaving them groaning at Mr. Kimbrough's math jokes.

Galgorithm is Karo's second young adult novel. Besides being an author and screenwriter, it comes as no surprise that Karo is also a comedian.

Book Details:

Galgorithm by Aaron Karo
New York: Simon Pulse 2015
310 pp.

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