When Marty learns she’ll be at a different high school than her best friend Jimmy, at first she’s devastated. She fears she and Jimmy will drift apart, and his new distraction with his first boyfriend only seems to prove her right. But Marty finds the perfect solution in a school production of Into the Woods. She finds ways for Jimmy and his new friends to be involved, and even involves her new friend Xiang. But even with the play, Marty feels like everyone has a special someone except her. Then a hunky actor takes an interest in her, and Marty swoons. But Felix pushes Marty in ways she doesn’t expect, and she struggles to figure out whether she needs to catch up with everyone else on the whole romance thing. When her friends express concern, Marty realizes she may have to choose between her new flame and her friends.
I feel like I kind of had a love-hate relationship with this book. I loved Marty’s spunky voice. Her friendship with Jimmy and their shared love of musicals was so sweet. I loved following the awkward transition into high school and the way it changed the relationships in Marty’s life.
On the other hand, I wasn’t a huge fan of these fifteen-year-old kids drinking so casually, and the way older family members provided alcohol to them like it was no big thing. I had a hard time with that. I also struggled with Xiang’s character. On the one hand, she describes this sort of repressive home life where her parents are so controlling that she’s afraid to admit she likes a boy from her youth orchestra group. After all, she reasons, nothing could happen between them anyway; her parents won’t allow it. But she doesn’t seem to have any qualms at all about putting on make-up or changing into clothes her parents wouldn’t approve of once she’s out of the house. And just how is this girl getting cigarettes and keeping them (plus contraband makeup and clothes) hidden in this home where her parents are supposed to be all up in her business? I found those ideas hard to reconcile.
However, I really enjoyed the whole high school production part of the story. I liked that the story included kids participating in the production off-stage as well as the actors. I liked that Marty’s perceptions of people get challenged on a lot of levels. It’s not just her perception of Jimmy’s new friends she has to adjust, but also her beliefs about Felix, the stage manager, even her parents, too. For me, that’s what made the story most enjoyable. Learning that we’re sometimes wrong in how we perceive situations and people around us is something we all have to deal with. I thought that part of Beyond Clueless was really well-done.
If you’re a musical fan or a fan of theater, you may want to add this one to your list.
Marty (white) befriends a Chinese girl at school. Her best friend is gay and dating his first boyfriend.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used with moderate frequency.
Marty sees some affection between the boys – holding hands, brief kissing. She vaguely wonders if they’re doing more, but never asks. Her friend Xiang briefly described some of her relationship with her boyfriend—hints that they do more than kiss and at one point makes a crude comment about him.
Marty learns that one of her friends punched another boy backstage during her performance.
Marty and her friends (who are all fifteen and sixteen) drink beer provided by older relatives.