Piper Perish

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Piper Perish Book Poster Image
Artistic teen's diary reveals bumpy path in relatable novel.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Quotes from famous artists about what art is, what inspires the artist, etc. Some biographical information about famous artists, especially Andy Warhol. Some Spanish words and one incorrect phrase intended humorously.

Positive Messages

Stay open, be brave, do everything, try everything, keep growing. Don't be afraid to be yourself, as you are now, instead of who you used to be. Fear is the enemy of creativity, so "now is the time for fearlessness."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Piper's a good role model for having a creative outlet and using it to help process her emotions when they start to overwhelm. But she's pretty self-centered, often blind to the effect she has on her loved ones and blind to their needs, too. She wants to go to New York more than anything, but other than applying to an art school there, she doesn't do anything to make it possible until it's too late. Her sister is hostile and abusive, and her parents are loving but inept enablers. Art teacher Ms. Adams is the teacher we all wish we had.

Violence

Verbally abusive sister Marli is often menacing, loses her temper easily, and throws and breaks things when she does.

Sex

Kissing and making out mentioned often but not described in detail. Piper mentions losing her virginity in 10th grade. She doesn't want to have sex, even though she desires it, because she's afraid of getting pregnant, even with birth control. She worries briefly that she has herpes. Major plot point involves sister's unplanned pregnancy. A girl's boyfriend breaks up with her for a guy; confusion about sexual preference is discussed but not in great detail. Mention of seeing a same-sex kiss in the past. A boy's erection while sleeping is seen under covers. A character early on is referred to as "STD Ronnie" (a reference to sexually transmitted disease). Speculation that couple is having sex or at least "blowies." Piper complains that she can hear her sister having sex through the walls in their house. Some descriptions of physical attraction.

Language

Frequent strong language. "Damn," "hell," "f--k," "s--t," "ass," "a--hole," "bulls--t," "d--k," "jerk-off" (insult), "suck," "peen," "blowies" (meaning oral sex), and "FML" (F--k My Life).

Consumerism

Lots of fast-food, pop culture, tech, and alcohol brands, mostly to establish mood, location, or character. Diet Coke mentioned frequently. Several mentions of Klonopin, an anti-anxiety prescription drug.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

High school seniors drink a variety of alcoholic beverages frequently, often to excess, and suffer hangovers and throw up as consequences. Jell-O shots. Spiked drinks at the prom. Sneaking swigs from a flask. Piper feels like she needs to be drunk on the night of the big art exhibit. A pregnant woman sneaks watermelon shots and throws up. She also takes several prescription anti-anxiety pills and is woozy and has to lie down. Adults have wine and beer with meals. Piper's parents give her a glass of wine once, and a glass of champagne at a celebration. Speculation that Andy Warhol did drugs and therefore isn't a good role model. Piper's mother takes "headache" pills that are later revealed to be Klonopin, an anti-anxiety medication. Once Piper wishes she could take Klonopin to make her forget her feelings. A man smelled like cigarettes. Piper's mom smokes a cigarette once and says she's allowed them if she needs them.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Piper Perish is a coming-of-age novel about the artistically talented 18-year-old Piper's senior year of high school, told in the form of her diary. Kissing and making out are mentioned a lot but descriptions are rare and vague. A male friend is involved in a same-sex relationship, and there are one or two brief discussions about sexual preference and how it can be confusing. Older teens drink a lot, at parties or when going out dancing, and frequently get very drunk. Consequences are hangovers and throwing up. Lots of strong language, including "f--k," "s--t," "d--k." Piper's mother takes anti-anxiety medication, and Piper's sister takes some of the pills once. An unplanned pregnancy is a major plot point. There's no violence, but Piper's sister is verbally abusive, physically menacing, and throws and breaks things when she's angry.

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What's the story?

PIPER PERISH is a talented artist who can't wait to escape provincial Houston to go to art school in New York City. She and her two best friends, who are also incredibly artistic, have sworn that they're all going together. But life has other plans for Piper, Kit, and Enzo. One of them meets someone new who makes that teen want to stay in Houston. Not all of them get accepted into art school. And with her sister unexpectedly pregnant, Piper's family budget is stretched to the limit. Can Piper find a way to be happy with what life offers, or can she find the courage to go out and make things happen for herself?

Is it any good?

Author Kayla Cagan's debut novel is an entertaining, light read. Teens will easily identify with Piper Perish as she faces the challenges of growing up and coping with life's many curve balls. The diary-entry format keeps things breezy while capturing an authentic voice that teens will relate to.

Piper is frustratingly self-centered, and unfortunately, the story fails to deliver the satisfaction of watching her grow into someone who makes things happen for herself. She doesn't change much, making the coming-of-age part of the story its weakest. But teens who are wondering what life holds in store for them while trying to figure out love, friendship, and family will enjoy it.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about all the drinking in Piper Perish. Is it a problem for the characters? Why, or why not? Is anyone an alcoholic?

  • Is the amount of strong language realistic for high school kids?

  • Had you heard of Andy Warhol before you read this book? What do you think his art looks like? Search online or at the library to see some of his work. How does it compare with what you thought it would be like?

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