Mercedes Helnwein’s Slingshot is an exciting debut contemporary young adult novel perfect for fans of Rainbow Rowell and Mary H. K. Choi
“I didn’t think it was going to be anything like this when I finally fell in love. I thought it was going to be pretty simple. Like, I’d love someone and they’d love me. I thought that’s the way it worked.”
Grace Welles is stuck at a third-tier boarding school in the swamps of Florida, where her method of survival is a strict, self-imposed loneliness. And it works. Her crap attitude keeps people away because without friends, there are fewer to lose.
But when she accidentally saves the new kid, Wade Scholfield, from being beaten up, everything about her precariously balanced loner world collapses and, in order to find her footing again, she has no choice but to discover a completely new way to exist.
Because with Wade around, school rules are optional, weird is okay, and conversations about wormholes can lead to make-out sessions that disrupt any logical stream of thought. Nothing’s perfect, but that’s not the point. When they’re together everything seems uncomplicated in a way that Grace knows is not possible.
Except it is.
So why does Grace crush Wade’s heart into a million pieces?
Acidly funny and compulsive readable, this debut is a story about two people finding each other and then screwing it all up. See also: soulmate, stupidity, sex, friendship, bad poetry, very bad decisions and all the indignities of being in love for the first time.
Boarding school stories are my absolute favorite, so needless to say, I was excited to dive into this book. The first thing you need to know is that this is not going to be the sort of “jolly hockey sticks” sort of boarding school tale. Gone are the ivy covered dorms of New England or… original England. They have been replaced by a third-tier school in Florida, where most of the students end up because they don’t have anywhere else to go.
Grace is a fascinating protagonist. Her brutal honesty might come across as shocking, but it’s understandable, considering her circumstances. Grace is the secret child of a wealthy married man. He pays for her tuition, while her mother maintains the startlingly naïve position that they are eventually going to be a happy family together. Grace’s lack of friendship is mostly for emotional self-preservation, but it’s also practical: there’s no one she has anything in common with at the school.
The content, especially the sexual experimentation and bullying, might raise a few eyebrows, but as a boarding school alumna, I assure you that it is accurate. Teens are figuring out who they are and as they establish themselves in the world, there are bound to be some bumps along the way. Teens are impulsive; they don’t think things through, and they often do things that seem counterintuitive to adults. But their brains are still developing, and it always makes sense to them at the time, whether or not they realize the faulty logic in hindsight.
I would recommend Slingshot. Grace’s acerbic personality is relatable and easy to identify with, and this made her character arc that much more satisfying. I suspect that Grace would roll her eyes at such an assertion, so I won’t say any more on the matter. This book is an amazing debut, and I look forward to reading more from Helnwein in the future.
I received an ARC of this book from Wednesday Book/NetGalley