Review: Sparks by S.J. Adams

Sparks by S.J. Adams Flux, 2011 (Currently Available)

Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction

Face Value: Worth looking at. There’s nothing truly extraordinary or breathtakingly beautiful, but it avoids all the major cover disasters, so we’ll give it a thumbs up. No disembodied girls or giant faces or pastels. The single image on the clean white background is actually from the book and relevant to the plot. So all in all, it’s hard to complain.

Does it Break the Slate? Yes, absolutely. Debbie is sort of a “Slatebreaker-on-the-brink” when we first meet her. She’s been making the vast majority of her decisions for the past few years based on her best friend Lisa, who she’s secretly in love with. But when she snaps into action, she starts to really take action on her own behalf.  I feel like she finds herself on a Slatebreaking journey of sorts as the book goes on. Plus, Emma and Tim are great supporting, Slatebreaking instigators.

Who would we give it to? This is a book for someone looking for a coming out story told with humor and far more internal than external angst. It’s a quick read and a great addition to library bookshelves if you’re looking to build your LGBTQ-friendly selection.

Review: Debbie is a lesbian. She knows it, her parents know it, she’s pretty comfortable with it. But her best friend Lisa doesn’t know it yet, and Debbie’s terrified to tell her, partially because Lisa is super religious and partially because Lisa is the girl Debbie’s in love with. For years, Debbie has kind of lived her life on hold, waiting to tell Lisa how she feels, but afraid to do it. For now she’s content to watch reruns of Full House and go to church events for the opportunity to spend time with Lisa.

But then the unthinkable happens. Lisa starts dating Norman and seems to be considering all kinds of thing she would never have before. Suddenly faced with indescribable panic and a fear of never achieving real happiness, she embarks on a crazy adventure, led by Emma and Tim, two semi-outcasts with issues of their own. Emma’s in recovery from an eating disorder, Tim’s a recovering alcoholic. They invented the Church of Blue as a means of faith that could get them through. It’s a little weird, but it’s basically the idea that they needed something to believe in and weren’t finding it anywhere. So through a series of pranks, commandments and holy quests, they find themselves. When they bring Debbie into the fold, they immediately take off on a Holy Quest so that she can tell Lisa how she feels. In the meantime a whole lot of other things happen (including a surprisingly great first kiss).

S.J. Adams really strikes a great balance of addressing the major issues that come up in the book in a way that takes them seriously, but doesn’t bog the story down in “issues” either. Part of what helps is that Tim and Emma are pretty far along in the recovery process, so they can be both frank and slightly flippant about what they’ve been through. Debbie is open about her sexuality and most of the people she encounters are cool about it too. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have tough emotional stuff to deal with, but I really appreciated seeing it dealt with in a way that was very personal and internal, more universally about falling in love and discovering sexuality for the first time than oppression. Obviously books that address oppression on a large scale are important, but it’s nice to have a funny, personal book like Sparks to include alongside them.

My biggest problem with this book is that it’s going to feel incredibly dated in 5 years. Actually, the pervasive Full House references make it feel already dated. I mean, to a point I get it – Full House becomes kind of a metaphor for the way Debbie has been living her life so far – safe and easy, with inoffensive humor, non-existent sex and wholesome problems that can be solved in 30 minutes, not including commercial breaks. As she explains to Emma and Tim right before they start their quest:

“’I’m kind of the opposite of you guys.’ I said. I sort of feel like I need to be less well behaved. I still feel weird when I swear out loud. I don’t even watch TV shows or read books that I don’t think Lisa’s family would approve of. I’ve spent the last five or six years living like a Full House character.”

The constant references to Kimmy Gibbler, Uncle Jesse, “you got it dude,” and everything else serve to reinforce Debbie’s growth and change and breaking out of that pattern as the books go on. However. I got the references, because I was born in 1984 and spent a large portion of elementary school watching the show on TGIF. I’m sure plenty of contemporary teen readers will know that Full House was a 90s TV show with the Olsen twins, but will they really know the catchphrases, or the specific quirks of each character?

Even so, Debbie is an incredibly likeable protagonist, and watching her become a real Slatebreaker over the course of the book is pretty awesome.

Reviewed from Library Copy.

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