Field Guide to High School

Field Guide to High School

4.3 3
by Marissa Walsh

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Andie has just finished eighth grade and will be starting high school in the fall. The good news: Her super-popular valedictorian big sister, Claire, is graduating and won't be there to put Andie in the shadows. The bad news: Her super-popular valedictorian big sister, Claire, is graduating and won't be there to help her. But Claire hasn't forgotten Andie.

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Andie has just finished eighth grade and will be starting high school in the fall. The good news: Her super-popular valedictorian big sister, Claire, is graduating and won't be there to put Andie in the shadows. The bad news: Her super-popular valedictorian big sister, Claire, is graduating and won't be there to help her. But Claire hasn't forgotten Andie.

For her little sister, Claire has put together a guide that covers everything a freshman needs to know but didn't even think to ask. Andie reads every word and even shares it with her best friend, Bess.

But sometimes they wonder if Harvard-bound Claire got everything right! In this hilarious and honest look at one girl's heroic attempt to conquer high school, readers will get all the benefit of Claire's wisdom about making those four years more than bearable—and absolutely memorable. Fortunately, high school happens only once in a lifetime.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Julie Just
Walsh's first novel is a smart and knowing satire that is probably all too on target as the survival guide it pretends to be.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

This slender book-within-a-book, while witty, reads more like background for a novel than a full-fledged work in itself. Claire, who has just left for Yale, has penned little sister Andie a guidebook to the private high school where Claire reigned supreme and where Andie is poised to enter as a freshman. With her bestie Bess (who's about to enter a Catholic school), Andie-and readers-absorb Claire's words of wisdom, which have been set into the pages of an old field guide to "poisonous plants" and "venomous animals." This wry touch closely resembles the use of zoology in Mean Girls, a movie quoted here along with other pop culture references. Kids familiar with those references will already know Walsh's (Not Like I'm Jealous or Anything) territory and players (goths, skaters, Muffys, Hiltons). Some of Claire's counsel might be shrewd but it's hard to implement (she tells her sister to be sick on the day of the ninth-grade class trip, since "nothing good comes of it"); much is obvious (while giving students distinct labels, she notes that "everyone... is insecure. Everyone. Insecure. Equally"). The narrative element, exploring the bond between the sisters, is too thin to compensate for the lack of a plot. Ages 12-up. (Aug.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature
AGERANGE: Ages 12 to 16.

Anyone who has survived high school knows that simply mastering the complex social structures can take as much hard work and studying as history, geography, or biology. That is the premise of Marissa Walsh's novel, in which eighth-grader Andie's high-achieving older sister Claire (on the way to Yale for "some pre-pre-preorientation college thing") gives her younger sister a doctored-up Peterson's field guide to poisonous plants and venomous animals. In this case, though, Claire has cleverly replaced the field guide text with her own recommendations about surviving the treacherous landscape of her (and soon to be Andie's) private high school. Claire offers advice on everything from how to get to school ("It's not cool to take the bus, but it's not as bad as being driven by a parent or other adult.") to how to spend the lunch hour ("Lunch is, above all, a social activity. Eating is secondary.") to which sports are cool (field hockey--"there's nothing cuter for fall than a little field hockey skirt") and which are not (softball--"don't even think about it."). Claire's guidelines, which often take the form of lists identifying different social types, school traditions, and more, are interspersed with the commentary of Andie and her best friend Bess as they digest the information Claire has imparted and prepare to face the years ahead. Although Walsh's unusual format is initially appealing, the rare glimpses into Andie's personality fail to advance her story, making the book more valuable as a work of social satire than as an insightful novel per se. Nevertheless, readers (especially those navigating the wilds of their own schools) will appreciate thegood-humored perspective and snarky commentary offered by Claire's most unconventional field guide. Reviewer: Norah Piehl

KLIATT - Janis Flint-Ferguson
Andie's sister Claire is leaving for Yale and although Andie, about to go to high school, was going to go along on the trip, instead she stays home. She has the house to herself and finds a book her sister left for her, the Field Guide to High School. Andie calls her best friend Bess to spend the day with her and share the book. Together they read through the cool ways to get to school, what the first day is like, what to wear, what to study and how to enjoy the traditions of the private school she will be attending. The guide is a snippet of life at the Plumstead Country Day School as seen by one who successfully maneuvered her way through it. By the end of the day, Claire is at Yale and has called Andie several times, and Andie is preparing for her own high school field experience. The book is cute and trendy, filled with references to pop culture and lists of songs and books that the 2007 reader will know and understand.
School Library Journal

Gr 7-9
When Claire heads off to Yale (early admission), she leaves her eighth-grade sister a book entitled A Field Guide to High School . In it, she explains the key to running the social and academic gambit at their private school, and discusses the elements of each social group and the importance of knowing what not to wear. She stresses the need to choose the right people from the very start of school, and tells her how she was so successful: "By being constantly aware of my surroundings. By keeping my friends close and my enemies closer. By striking first." Claire's voice is witty and wry and easy to read, but it lacks a personal connection. The font changes between narrator and commentary by Andi and her best friend, providing nicely spaced text. The occasional spot illustrations resemble those found in field-guide manuals, yet each one is labeled to reflect an aspect of high school (Scorpions/Spiders/Centipedes; Sophomores/Juniors/Seniors). The numerous pop-culture references and even top 10 lists enable readers to connect with the novel but it reads just like a field guide with minimal character/reader interaction.
—Emily GarrettCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Because there is no room in the car, Andie, the soon-to-be ninth-grader, is left behind, as her parents drive her older sister Claire to start her freshman year at Yale. Once at home, Andie finds the Field Guide that Claire wrote for her using chapter headings from a real guide. Andie will be entering the same posh private school from which Claire recently graduated as valedictorian. The first half (POISONOUS PLANTS) is comprised of detailed ins and outs of private school and advice that tends toward overbearing ("Don't dress up too much. . . . Don't introduce yourself as my sister.") and the accumulated effect eventually emphasizes poor Claire's own fierce alienation. The second half (VENOMOUS ANIMALS), mostly humorous and clever, categorizes every specimen of the high-school genus and species. While the book-within-the-book idea is an interesting one, its potential never seems to develop fully. Andie's minimal response may leave readers wondering about its purpose-for kids to laugh at themselves or to articulate a more subversive message about individuality? Backmatter includes lists for top reads, music and television. Glaringly omitted is Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak (1999), to which, in part, this book may owe a debt. (Fiction. 12-14)
From the Publisher
Praise for Zipped:
"The McNeals spin a wonderfully rich story." - Kirkus Reviews
Winner of the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Children's Literature
Praise for Crushed:
"A compelling story about youthful mistakes - and how to make amends."
- Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
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Random House
File size:
532 KB
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

The day my older sister, Claire, left for college she gave me this book.
This is how it happened. When I went outside to get in the car that would bring Claire and her stuff to college, there was a minifridge in my seat. And it wasn’t moving. “It’s either it or me,” I said. My parents looked at each other. My mother gave me money for pizza and said they wouldn’t be home too too late. My father gave me a weak smile. As they pulled away, Claire smirked out the window, then made that stupid Macaulay Culkin Home Alone face at me: a hand on each cheek and her mouth opened wide. I gave her the finger. Then I went back inside–there was no reason to start the day at this ungodly hour. Claire was the crazy one who had insisted on leaving at five-thirty a.m. because she wanted to beat her roommate there so she could get the best side. “Everyone knows that’s how it works,” she had explained. I didn’t think that was the nicest way to start things off, but I didn’t say anything. You couldn’t argue with Claire.
She had signed up for some pre-pre-preorientation college thing so she could “survey the competition, get a jump on everyone else, and hit the ground running.” Part of her motivation for doing this was because she had, according to her, been given the worst incoming first-year student at Yale for a roommate. Someone who had probably only applied there because she wanted to be like Rory on Gilmore Girls. Or First Daughter Barbara Bush. I didn’t think being like Rory was such a bad thing, but I kept my mouth shut. Besides, I secretly thought it was possible Claire had chosen Yale for the same reason.
What had happened was, my sister had sent the nice, summertime hello-I-like-to-sleep-with-the- window-open friendly e-mail to her roommate and received no response. My sister was not used to receiving no response. This was not how one treated my sister.
That girl was toast.
And so was I.
Claire had been like Ms. Plumstead Country Day, which was the stupid name of the stupid high school I’d be going to and she had just graduated from. She was popular, captain of the field hockey team, pretty, and smart. Yes, she was a total high school cliché. They should have shipped her out to Laguna Beach. And now she was going to Yale, where she would probably become a total college cliché. And I was starting at Plumstead, pretty sure no one would ever be crowning me anything except “Claire Petersen’s little (maybe she’s adopted?) sister.”
I hadn’t wanted to go to Plumstead. Claire and I had always gone to public school, but then when it was time for Claire to go to high school she was recruited by Plumstead, and for some reason I still don’t understand my parents agreed to send her there.
It had never occurred to me that I would have to go there, too. I just assumed I would go to the public high school, or to Pope Mother Teresa XXXIII, the Catholic school my best friend, Bess, was going to. But I didn’t even get a choice. As usual, I was paying the price of being related to Claire.
Plumstead hadn’t recruited me–they were just stuck with me because I was related to her. I wasn’t a star like Claire. I got Bs. I was good at soccer but I wasn’t the captain. I never scored. If Bess were here she would point out that that’s because I played defense, which is true. But it is also true that I am just average. My big sister is the most interesting thing about me. As I jumped back into bed, my knee hit something hard. I reached under my blanket: it was a book. But it wasn’t mine and it hadn’t been there when I’d gotten up. Claire. Either she had forgotten it or it was an overdue library book she wanted me to return for her. Typical.
My cell phone rang. It was five-forty-five. Who would be calling?
“Did you find it?”
“The book I left for you?”
“Who is this?”
Claire snorted. “Oh, so you’ve forgotten me already?”
I started to hang up.
“Wait! Andie! Are you in my room?”

I tried to go back to sleep but the book taunted me from the floor. It was as if Claire had never left. And with the new family-plan cell phones she had insisted my parents invest in for college (playing the safety card really works, by the way), she would continue to call me until I had read it and given her an A+. It was either that or change my number.
To be honest, I had nothing better to do. I opened the book, which Claire had modestly titled “A Field Guide to High School.” It looked like she had found an actual old field guide at a used-book store–this one was about poisonous plants and venomous animals–except that she had pasted over the descriptions of poison oak and scorpions. It was one of those Peterson’s guides, which was mildly amusing, because our last name just happens to be Petersen, with an “e.” I guess there was a reason my sister had gotten into Yale–she could be clever when she wanted to be.

From the Hardcover edition.

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