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The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Kidney Hypothetical: Or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days is about a high school senior, Higgs Boson Bing, and how one seemingly minor question upends his life. Higgs' four years of high school have been a series of academic, extracurricular, and social achievements, culminating in his acceptance to Harvard and vying for the honor of Senior of the Year. But rather than ending his high school years in a blaze of glory, he faces a series of events that make his last week of high school a living hell. Characters drink, smoke cigarettes, and engage in minor kissing. Frequent instances of rudeness, bullying, and name-calling. Swearing is not frequent but includes "f--k" and its variations, "s--t," "a--hole," and "bitch."
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What's the story?
THE KIDNEY HYPOTHETICAL: OR HOW TO RUIN YOUR LIFE IN SEVEN DAYS is about what happens when you focus solely on checking the boxes next to achievements and don't pay attention to how your actions affect those around you. The story starts with the Senior Sail, an annual party that kicks off a week of festivities for the seniors of Sally Ride High School. Higgs Boson Bing is looking forward to this celebratory week, hoping to win the title of Senior of the Year. He has it all: admission to Harvard, a 4.35 GPA, a cute, popular girlfriend, and loads of activities and awards under his belt. When his girlfriend, Rosemary "Roo" Wynn, asks him whether he'd donate a kidney to her if she needed one, Higgs feels put upon and responds that he refuses to answer hypotheticals. She breaks up with him on the spot, and word spreads of his "cruelty" to Roo. In the seven days that follow, the entire school -- including administrators -- turns against Higgs. He's bullied, insulted, and pranked. His home life isn't faring much better, either; his parents are having troubles, his sister treats him like dirt, and the family is still mourning the death of Higgs' brother years earlier. While seeking some solitude, Higgs meets a mysterious teen girl, Monarch, who's staying in a trailer in the woods. She doesn't buy into the narrative he's written for himself and gets him to question his motivations and whom he's really trying to please.
Is it any good?
The book has a decent premise: that achieving for the sake of achieving and putting aside your own dreams to make other people happy aren't the best approaches to life. Unfortunately, the event that sets Higgs Boson Bing's horrible week in motion is ridiculous. Although it becomes clear that Higgs is not as perfect as he tries to appear, the level of hatred, cruelty, and retribution aimed at him is weird and out of proportion. Most of the characters are annoying, and much of the dialogue involves yelling and name-calling, especially in the first part of the book. The numerous insults hurled at Higgs are supposed to be humorous, but the humor falls flat. The school's reaction to overt bullying is unbelievable and awful.
The character of Monarch is a take on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl cliché, but her character is welcome in that she challenges Higgs to truly examine his goals and motives. The book is better when the reader gets to know Higgs and see the struggles that led him to become a driven, high achiever. More of that level of insight into the pressures facing many teens would have be welcome. Otherwise, there are too many awful characters in this book to make it a completely enjoyable read.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what constitutes success. How does your family measure achievement? Are high grades and awards important, or do you focus more on what you're learning and how you're growing in school and in activities?
Do you ever feel like completely detaching from online life and giving up social media, texting, and games, even for a short while? What do you think you might gain by doing that?
What does being a good friend mean to you? Can you think of ways you could be more supportive of your friends?
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