Thursday, March 10, 2016

Say You Will by Eric Walters

Say You Will is a funny novel about a genius teen who struggles to fit in with his peers in high school. To that end, he undertakes a promposal despite believing he has little chance of succeeding.

Samuel Davies is a brilliant junior and that makes him different. But Sam doesn't want to be brilliant. All he wants is to fit in with his peers. To achieve this, Sam has started dressing differently, learned popular vernacular and stopped acing tests. However one of his teachers, Mrs. Tanner, astutely catches Sam at his game and challenges him about not doing his best. He tells her about wanting to fit in and to be "normal". Mrs. Tanner tells him that will never be the case and that normal is just a social construct.

Sam's two friends are Ian and Brooke. Brooke is very smart, a committed vegetarian and is into many social causes. "Brooke had spearheaded a drive to ban throw-away plastic water bottles on campus and replace them with reusuable ones."

Ian has a problem filtering the information he shares with others. He sees a psychologist, Dr. Young  who has been helping Ian learn to "re-channel his comments so that they wouldn't get him in so much trouble." Sam also sees Dr. Young although he has recently stopped. To help him, Ian taps out his inappropriate comments in Morse code rather than speaking them aloud.

Both Ian and Sam are smitten with three of Brooke's friends, Taylor who is the most beautiful girl in the class and her friends Ashley and Brittney. While Sam is attracted to Taylor who is both beautiful and intelligent and kind, Ian prefers Ashley.

While at lunch, Sam, Ian and Brooke along with much of the school witness a spectacular promposal undertaken by Kevin, captain of the football team. Using a dozen team members who line up alongside a limo, they spell out BRITT PROM? as he asks Brittney to the prom. She accepts and drives off with Kevin in his limo.

Ian wants to ask Ashley but with having lost his job at Clown Town where Brooke and Sam also work, money is a problem. Brooke doesn't believe in either proms or promposals, both of which she considers "meaningless, wasteful decadence driven by mindless capitalism..." However Sam is impressed by what Kevin did because he "put himself out there, in front of everybody, and risked Brittney saying no to him," Brooke is disgusted by Sam's desire to go to prom and the possibility that he is considering a promposal. He tells Brooke that in order to continue his quest of fitting in, he needs to consider doing a promposal. "If promposals are the new social norm, then I'd have to follow that norm. Besides, I figure I'd have to do something pretty special to convince this particular girl to go with me."

At home, Sam watches the video of Kevin's promposal with his parents. He admits to his mother that he is considering a promposal. When Sam's father spills that he is considering doing the promposal, Brooke offers to help Sam so it won't be a total failure.Ian agrees to help Sam as long as Sam helps him with his promposal. When Ian questions Sam as to who he is going to ask, Sam is vague. However both Ian and Brooke believe that Sam is intending to ask Taylor to the prom despite Sam's insistence that he is not.

Has Sam set himself up for a huge failure just to prove he fits in? Who is he really going to ask and how can he possibly top Kevin's promposal?


Say You Will is a funny, enjoyable novel about one boy's journey to fit in as he navigates the precarious world of high school. Sam is a brilliant student who decides that in order to fit in he needs to dumb himself down and dress and act like his "cooler" peers.
"Added to that was a calculated combination of longer hair, new clothes, the sprinkling of new words into my vocabulary -- smaller words, combined with popular vernacular -- and what would have appeared to be a much more relaxed attitude toward school. These were all factors that I had identified as being associated with students who occupied the "cooler" end of the social spectrum."

Sam considers himself to be evolving, something he explains to his teacher, Mrs. Tanner when she confronts him about his lower marks. She encourages Sam to embrace his "difference" which is of course, his high intelligence. Mrs. Tanner hopes to change his thinking by explaining some of the future consequences such as losing scholarships to universities. However, Sam remains undeterred in his plan.

He believes that because he has always had friends who were not part of the clique, he and his friends never worked harder to try to fit in. 
"The three of us just sort of fit together. Because of them, Id' never really been alone. We'd all been different -- looking back, we were definitely outsiders even then -- but we were outsiders together. That made it so much less lonely. Maybe that was part of the problem. Because we had each other, we didn't work as hard as we might have to break through and become more like everybody else."

In response to Sam's expressed desire to be normal, Mrs. Tanner tells him the idea of "normal" is a social construct. She warns Sam "it's important not to lose sight of who you are, the real, authentic, genuine you, as you make your climb to the top..."

Then Kevin's promposal happens and Sam considers that this is yet another way for him to fit in. When his friends warn him that doing a promposal could be disastrous, Sam reasons, "If prom was part of the high school experience and fitting in, and I wanted to be part of that experience, shouldn't I go to prom?"

Sam is forced to reconsider his strategy of deliberately getting lower marks on tests when he asks Mrs. Tanner for her help with his promposal. She points out to Sam that he really does want the higher marks but he's cheating himself and not being true to who he is by deliberately scoring lower. He acknowledges this and agrees to do his best if his marks are kept secret. Although this doesn't really represent much growth on Sam's part he is beginning to acknowledge that being smart is an authentic part of who he is.

The choice of Sam's promposal is not revealed until the very last pages but readers will easily determine who Sam wants to take to prom. His promposal is true to who he is and who the girl he asks is, done with his characteristic humour.

Say You Will is a light, quick read that has capitalized on the promposal craze in existence for the past couple of years. Walter's witty dialogue between the three friends is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Ian's lack of a "filter" provides plenty of opportunities for the creative, funny exchanges that characterize this novel. Brooke is the eco-friendly, no-nonsense, practical girl who seems to fit with Sam's methodical manner and dry humour. Say You Will touches only lightly on the themes of self-acceptance and growing up. Recommended for those new to high school!

Book Details:

Say You Will by Eric Walters
Canada: Doubleday Canada 2015
184 pp.

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