Monday, January 31, 2011

Book Review: Rival by Sara Bennett-Wealer


What if your worst enemy turned out to be the best friend you ever had?

Meet Brooke: Popular, powerful and hating every minute of it, she’s the “It” girl at Douglas High in Lake Champion, Minnesota. Her real ambition? Using her operatic mezzo as a ticket back to NYC, where her family lived before her dad ran off with an up and coming male movie star.

Now meet Kathryn: An overachieving soprano with an underachieving savings account, she’s been a leper ever since Brooke punched her at a party junior year. For Kath, music is the key to a much-needed college scholarship.

The stage is set for a high-stakes duet between the two seniors as they prepare for the prestigious Blackmore competition. Brooke and Kathryn work toward the Blackmore with eyes not just on first prize but on one another, each still stinging from a past that started with friendship and ended in betrayal. With competition day nearing, Brooke dreams of escaping the in-crowd for life as a professional singer, but her scheming BFF Chloe has other plans. And when Kathryn gets an unlikely invitation to Homecoming, she suspects Brooke of trying to sabotage her with one last public humiliation.

As pressures mount, Brooke starts to sense that the person she hates most might just be the best friend she ever had. But Kathryn has a decision to make. Can she forgive? Or are some rivalries for life?


The Short Version:

Both emotional and light, Rival does a fantastic job blending two sides of the same story in a way that makes each character sympathetic and relatable. The rivalary between Brooke and Kathryn is perfectly handled and manipulated, showing both the good and nasty sides of the girls. Mixing both the full realities of competition singing and the work that goes into it with normal high school life, and giving insight into both the current senior year and past junior year, there are several subplots that also add to the overall, rivalry-centric plot.

The Extended Version:
Kathryn is quiet and unsure, bullied and beat down by former friend Brooke and her popular posse. Though this is a "cliche" kind of situation, Bennett-Wealer spins it into something her own, going through the entire gauntlet of building Kathryn's background, motivations, and development. Whether or not she'll end up finding her feet and growing a spine is central to her side of the story, and beautifully handled. Her best friend, Matt, is a phenomenal character, the kind of kid who is also a loner but more by choice, and because he simply is content being close to just Kathryn. He is charming and adorable, loyal and always there for her, and though a side character, he's as memorable as Kathryn and Brooke.

Brooke comes off as nasty, at least through Kathryn's eyes, but the alternating POV chapters completely blow that out of the water. She's popular, but not necessarily happy with it. Perhaps she's ungrateful, but Bennett-Wealer twists her character into something more understanding and sympathetic. She wants bigger things in life than her town can offer, and though it's clear she lovers her parents and brothers, Brooke has the urge to spread her wings in a way that she can only do through singing and winning the Blackthorne. She, too, has a very well done personal development.

The plot centers around the rivalry between these two girls, which can get harsh and potentially dangerous at times, while just being sad and petty at others. Bennett-Wealer most definitely handles the full range smoothly, and the play off between the two girls, often misinterpreting the actions of the other and adding to the problem, are all weaved together in a very readable, enjoyable way. There are sections that flashback to the previous year, when the rivalry itself began, and that story is intermixed with what's happening in the present. The sections are long enough to give plenty of history and pull the reader in, while not being so long the other part is forgotten. Bennett-Wealer's transitions are smooth and even have great lead ins between them, despite the year time difference.

From the ultimate question of which girl will win the Blackthorne, the showcase that both girls are now competing for and kicking their rivalry up a notch over, to the questions of why things went wrong, and if they'll find a way to work it out, Bennett-Wealer has plenty of things to keep the pages turning. Add in some smaller subplots, and the simply well done overall execution, and this is a book that grabs from the start and doesn't let go. The pacing is easy, intense at just the right times and flowing throughout, and Bennett-Wealer's writing holding a strong voice. Though the actual writing was very similar between the two girl's perspectives, their individual mindsets were strong enough to override this and give each other girl their own voice and forge individual connections with the reader to each.

There are some strong messages which come through in both blatant and subtle messages, with both friendship and the strains of envy. Add in some romance, typical high school dram that has a great impact without being cliche or obnoxious, some intense emotion, and a satisfying ending, and Rival is a stunning debut. Telling both the bullied and the bullier's side, blending them in a smooth way, and with some strong eye opening for both girls, Bennett-Wealer has written a beautiful contemporary that will hit a range of readers.

Source: ARC received from publisher in exchange for honest review
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: February 15, 2011


  1. Thank you so much for the amazing review. I'm thrilled and honored you liked the book so much!!

  2. I've been debating on whether or not to read this one...think I might now. Thanks!!

  3. I can't WAIT for this book to come out!!! So excited :)