A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that On the Fence is a fairly tame teen romance. Charlie goes out on dates with a boy and kisses him in her family's hot tub. Later, she and Braden kiss, too, (and she tells him he's a better kisser). The darkest material has to do with Charlie and Braden's parents: Her mom was depressed and killed herself, and Charlie -- who can't remember -- has bloody nightmares; and Braden's dad has a drinking problem and gave him a black eye while drunk. Ultimately, there is a sweet message here about being true to yourself while also allowing yourself to explore new aspects of your identity. Also, readers might appreciate that Charlie is of Mexican decent, since there's a lack of non-white protagonists in literature for young people.
What's the story?
ON THE FENCE is narrated by tough Charlie, the youngest child (and only girl) in a family of four wild kids who are constantly playing and watching sports together. After Charlie gets another speeding ticket, her single dad makes her get a job to pay the fine. She starts working at a boutique, dressing femininely for the first time and even getting side work as a makeup model. Though not exactly comfortable with these changes, Charlie does make new friends and try new things, helping her start “realizing that maybe there was more to me than I realized.” She also realizes that her feelings for her next-door neighbor -- a boy she often has heart-to-heart talks with late at night at their shared fence line -- go way beyond friendship. And she suspects there may be more to the accident that killed her mom than she knows about.
Is it any good?
The story line about Charlie’s mother seems straight out of a soap opera, but readers will find the narrator a likable character with a relatable problem. She thinks that because she's a tough, athletic girl, Braden can see her only as “his buddy,” not as girlfriend material. Author Kasie West not only breaks down this outdated assumption, she also allows Charlie to grow new facets of her identity -- and accept herself -- without having to throw any of the girly girls who befriend her under the bus.
Charlie's growing feeling for her neighbor Braden -- built on years of hanging out and lots of recent intimate late-night conversations -- is sweet and provides a positive model for young teen romance readers.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Charlie's idea that boys only like girly girls -- and not girls like her who like sports more than fashion. Is there any truth to her idea?
What's fun about summer romantic reads? Why do you think so many books like this one come out during this time of year?
Are young adult romance books good for helping readers sort out how to handle romance, or do you think they set too-high expectations about teen relationships?
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