He Said She Said

 
(i)

 

Mature jock-valedictorian romance has social media factor.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Older characters serve as an educational resource, exposing the main teen characters to jazz, the history of the civil rights movement, and life lessons. Readers also learn a bit about Gandhi's philosophy of non-violent protest, author Pat Conroy, and more.

Positive messages

Positive messages include the importance of arts education, as well as the voice of the people and how today's teens can make an impact on the world around them. He Said She Said also explores what it takes to grow a healthy romantic relationship, and the consequences of poor decisions, including violence.

Positive role models

At first, quite a few characters seem to lack redeeming qualities, but as the story goes on, some who showed questionable values in the beginning grow into positive role models. Hands-on adult characters support teens' positive growth and development.

Violence

Violence is part of the book's culture, with verbal threats, gun-brandishing, and several small scuffles. The rivalry between two football teams peaks when someone attempts to shoot the star quarterback but hits an innocent bystander. The intended victim has a flashback to the bloody shooting of a child that he once witnessed. Both shooting victims survive.

Sex

Like many books about star football players and high school romance, He Said She Said features a lot of sexual talk, clichés, and stereotypes. Omar keeps score on his conquests -- 19 women at his school so far -- and announces that he'll say anything to get more. Their school has the nation's highest teen pregnancy rate. Girls say they know who had an abortion, and one girl admits she had one herself as a high school student without her parents' knowledge. A video of a student receiving oral sex goes viral. Two teens have sex, but there's not much detail. Sexual intercourse is described between two teens without much detail. A girl comes out as a lesbian.

Language

Swear words and crude language include "bitch," "s---," and "damn," spelled "dayum." Colorful sexual terms include "bong bong," "smash," "hit that," "lala," "hoes," etc. Mild name calling includes African-American teens calling each other variants of the "N" word. Characters hurl derogatory names at a girl who identifies as gay.

Consumerism

References to products, designer labels, media outlets and colleges -- e.g. Panera, CNN, Anderson Cooper, Harvard University, Miami University, Waffle House -- are mostly part of setting the story.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Underage drinking's featured several times, and characters appear with marijuana and tobacco cigarettes in party and school situations.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that as a realistic window into many teens' daily lives, He Said She Said is mostly positive in tone, but includes plenty of sex talk and sexual situations, such as underage and oral sex, a sex tape, and discussion of abortion. It also features lots of salty language, drug use, and violence. Parents should be prepared to talk about sexuality and health, peer pressure, and social media use. 

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What's the story?

Kwame Alexander's HE SAID SHE SAID portrays a version of today's teen life saturated with social media, hormones, and status. Star quarterback Omar scores as much on the field as off, but he gets nowhere with Claudia, the school's valedictorian and resident goody two-shoes. Omar sets out to make her his latest conquest, but instead learns to care about Claudia, her latest crusade, and becoming a true friend.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

He Said She Said offers an interesting look at two sides of the lead characters' relationship dance. While Omar and Claudia first appear as stereotypical teen book characters, they evolve into complex souls who'll have readers caring about and rooting for them as the story develops. Author Kwame Alexander does a masterful job weaving in three essential characters -- Omar, Claudia, and social media, which now plays a supporting role in any convincing teen tale.

Tough topics -- the rise of teen sports stars on the national stage, the depressing state of education funding, teen sexual health, abortion, and the perception of teen apathy -- are part of the story, but leave enough unsaid that there's plenty of room for discussions between parents and their own teens. Poet Alexander's lyrical prose moves the story along at a nice pace.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the importance of being an active participant in our society, even as a student. Do you think it's important to stand up to policies that adversely affect students? How?

  • One of the themes in He said She Said is the pressure on teens to have sex, regardless of their true feelings. Is there peer pressure at your school to engage in sexual activities? What can you do about it?

  • How do stereotypes and the pressure to conform to them affect the environment at your school? Have you ever wanted to take part in an activity or event, but didn't because of other people's expectations? 

Book details

Author:Kwame Alexander
Genre:Romance
Topics:High school
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:November 19, 2013
Number of pages:336
Publisher's recommended age(s):14 - 17
Available on:Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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Quality

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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