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Mercedes Helnwein's SLINGSHOT - Not Your Average YA Rom-Com

by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)

Book cover of Mercedes Helnwein's Slingshot

Thanks to Partner Wednesday Books and NetGalley for the digital ARC of Mercedes Helnwein’s Slingshot in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, April 27.

Despite its bright and cheery cover, Mercedes Helnwein’s Slingshot is not a sweet YA rom-com. From page one, it defied my expectations. I absolutely loved it.

Grace Welles is fifteen and miserable. She attends an undistinguished boarding school paid for by her father—Grace and her mom are his second family; his wife and daughters have no idea that Grace and her mom exist. So, this special education is his way of assuaging some guilt.

At the opening of the novel, Grace is ugly crying in the bathroom because has realized that her all-consuming crush on her biology teacher is unrequited, and she is devastated. Grace prides herself on being too tough to be hurt, but she had convinced herself that Mr. Sorrentino’s academic encouragement meant something more . . . until she meets his fiancée.

Grace is a super prickly character. She can be mean and snarky and unpleasant. She doesn’t really have any friends at school, though she and her roommate tolerate each other, and she takes herself out of contention for any cliques or friendships or groups. She focuses on the classes she’s interested in (so not math or PE), puts her head down, and just survives.

Things change when Grace “saves” a new kid, Wade Scholfield, from being beaten up by three popular upperclassmen by shooting them with a slingshot. Grace insists that her intention wasn’t to be helpful but just because she didn’t like the guys who were targeting Wade. She’s not interested in being pulled into a friendship fueled by his gratitude, and she’s resentful that the school punishes them for the altercation by making Grace and Wade clean the cafeteria every day after dinner. Eventually, though, she can’t help but like Wade.

This is where, normally, everything would get simpler, Grace would become nicer, and she and Wade would dive into a relationship that ends happily at the end of the story. This isn’t that kind of book. Slingshot, like Grace, is complicated and messy and (I think) really moving. Yes, Grace and Wade do have a relationship, but for me, the beauty of this one is watching Grace grow up a little bit and then make some big mistakes and then grow up a little bit more. She doesn’t do a 180, so don’t wait for that, but she does figure out some things.

"Stories don't end. . . . Even the last word of the sentence of a book is not an ending. That story continues whether the author writes about it or not. More so even in life—there's the illusion of things ending, but really nothing ends."

There’s a lot more to Slingshot, but there’s also great joy in the discovery of this story and this character. This is a complex, complicated debut for Mercedes Helnwein, and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

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