"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Ask Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann, a conflicted review

Young adult literature is rarely straight-forward. No one would want to read it if it was. But Christine Heppermann's Ask Me How I Got Here is even less predictable than most and I am very conflicted in how I feel about the book.

Addie attends a private Catholic School, The Immaculate Heart Academy, where she is more interested in running cross-country and boys than she is about her studies. When she finds out that her boyfriend is cheating on her she turns her attention to his friend Nick, a cute artsy, sensitive musician. Nick and Addie fall easily into a sexual relationship without much forethought and, surprise, Addie gets pregnant. She decides, with the support of Nick and her parents, to get an abortion. Afterwards she experiences new feelings, perhaps guilt or remorse, or just grief and ambivalence. but school and cross country no longer interest Addie. Friendships, even with her best friend and with Nick fall to the wayside. Then Addie has a chance meeting with an old teammate, Claire, and a whole new world opens up.

Ask Me How I Got Here is written in verse. Heppermann's first book I read, Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty consisted of short, often pithy poems retelling old fairy tales in modern terms. The poems in this book fell into two varieties: those written by Heppermann to serve as the storytelling device, and those written by Addie which are cleverly made to look like her handwriting. Many of the poems had religious themes which made sense since Addie attended a Catholic school and was grappling with her conscience. "Praying While Flushing" starts Hail, Mary, full of grace,/You know what it is like/ the Lord is with thee. I  know what it is like to ask for help in a prayer. In this case, Addie is praying that the results of the pregnancy test will be negative. The poem entitled "Mercy", Nick comes over after the abortion and her parents go away and come back with mint chocolate chip ice cream. What a great mercy when those who love us the most show their forgiveness and mercy, even when we are not deserving. In addition Addie has to confront the hypocrisies of her faith where the nuns who founded her school did so with a mission of compassion as the goal, yet often treat students in a non-compassionate way. This is exemplified in the poem "Kind of Like Yogurt."

I loved the poetry in Ask Me How I Got Here and the story reads very quickly because of it. I finished the book in less than two hours. But I am still very conflicted about aspects of the writing and the story. To begin with I was a bit shocked by how graphic and erotic the descriptions of sex were. As a high school librarian with students, grades 9-12, do I purchase the book because the subject matter is too mature for the younger students or buy it because my older students could handle it? I can't decide. Does the beauty of the poetry override the explicit nature of the subject? I am not sure.

Secondly, my conflicted feelings about the book have to do with the length. Usually books written in verse are about twice as long as the average YA novel. This gives plenty of time for the plot to develop. This book was shorter than the usual book at 225 pages in length. Everything seemed to happen so fast. As a reader I was robbed of the opportunity to understand the nuances of decisions, make friends with the characters, or even root for the main character. The plot twist near the end of the book seems to come out of left field so I felt almost ambushed by it. I needed more than I got and was left feeling short-changed.

For the above reasons I give the book a 3.5 out of 5 rating. I loved the poetry but was left feeling unsatisfied by the execution of the story.

Source: I checked the book out of the public library.

2017 Printz Award Contenders

16 / 35 books. 46% done!


  1. I really want to read this book now! But I sympathize with your concerns over whether or not to buy a copy for your school's library. There are strong arguments on either side. Have you come closer to a decision?

    1. No decisions yet. I may purchase the book but not add it to our Mock Printz reading list. Still conflicted.

  2. How old are the students in grades 9-12. That is a bit difficult. I do remember reading some YA books when I was a YA that had some sex scenes in, but they were mainly kind of blurry. Then again, I knew much less than teenagers now.

    Interesting to have a book written in verse, anyway.

    1. 9th grade students enter high school at 14 years old. The jump from middle school, where they are sheltered, to the high school environment is often jarring for them. Many still want to read books like the Warrior series by Erin Hunter. This is a series about special cats. Nothing wrong with this but goes to show the maturity level is still low. I would worry that explicit sex scenes would just become that and the story would go by the wayside. Sigh.

  3. That is such a difficult decision to make especially considering the age range is 14-18. That's such a big difference! I think I'll add this to my TBR especially since it's such a quick read. I haven't read many books dealing with faith/religion in contemporary YA that isn't 'Christian fiction'.


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