“That’s why they call them crushes. If they were easy, they’d call ‘em something else.”– John Hughes
Author: Perie Wolford
Pages/Word Count: 192 Pages
Rating: 4 Stars
Blurb: Sam never liked his birthdays because not a single one of them was happy… When he turned 1, he fell face-down into his birthday cake; when he turned 5, he broke his left arm and when he turned 7, he broke his right arm and his left leg; when he turned 12, his house caught fire. Now Sam is about to turn 16 and he is dreading the day. The only birthday wish he has is for Jake who is the Mr. Popular of Arcadia High to even acknowledge his existence, or better yet give him a happy-birthday kiss.
But Sam knows that it’s not gonna happen. Or is it?
Review: Turning 16 is the first in Perie Wolford’s series of YA M/M books based loosely on the John Hughes films from the 1980s. Some of his titles are Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and The Breakfast Club, which is still one of my favorite movies and is popular with today’s teenagers too. The message that we are all different, and feel insecure at times, is a timeless one. This first book is all about Sam and his hellish sixteenth birthday. Molly Ringwald he isn’t!
I don’t personally believe in curses, but Sam does. Whether it is a self-fulfilling prophecy or not is up to the reader to decide. Every year on Sam’s birthday, something terrible happens. So much so that his family has stopped saying the words “Happy Birthday” to him. His evil little brother taunts him on the morning of his birthday, and comes very close to saying those dreaded words. But stops just shy of it. In Sam’s mind that doesn’t negate the curse, though. Calamity will strike regardless of someone else’s birthday wishes.
Sam has had a crush on Mr. Popularity, Jake, since forever. Jake is your quintessential high school fantasy. He is smart, rich, gorgeous, popular and the captain of the football team. Sam has taken a position as the towel boy for the football team just so he can be closer to Jake, who, up until Sam’s sixteenth birthday, has not seemed to realize that Sam existed. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention that Jake has a girlfriend. All Sam wants for his birthday is a kiss from Jake.
A series of family crises forces the celebration of Sam’s birthday to be pushed back. First for a couple of days, then eventually for a week. Now Sam doesn’t just have to survive his birthDAY, he has to survive a birthday WEEK! Let the catastrophes begin. First, he has to sleep in the laundry room for an undetermined amount of time while his house is full to the rafters with displaced family members. Then he notices, or thinks he does, that Jake seems to be looking at him a lot. And Mitch, who is friendly enough and cute but straight, is trying to get in between Jake and Sam whenever he can.
Sam and Mitch become friendlier, and Mitch starts giving Sam rides to school and sitting near him in the classes they share. With the looks Sam is noticing, he thinks Mitch may not be straight. But wait, Jake is looking at him! Sam confides in Mitch about his “birthday curse” and they grow closer. Mitch is determined to help Sam get through the week without serious damage being incurred.
Perie Wolford has done an amazing job of capturing that feeling of teenage sexual awakening. The time when anything can trigger a fantasy, and just a glance from (or a dream about) the right person causes, um, messiness. The agonizing feeling of not knowing if that someone you like likes you back. Is he straight or is he gay and looking at me like I am a steak he wants to eat? That soul-deep longing for someone to love you. We feel like we are deep inside Sam’s head.
Turning 16 is a great read. It’s light and funny while also having a couple of seriously deep and painful moments. And it has cartoon splats! Like “Sploosh!” and “Wham!” in those little Batman-like bubbles. Mr. Wolford makes it easy to believe that the book was written by a sixteen year old. I can’t wait until May when Sam turns 17!
I wholeheartedly recommend this book!