Crowded by Shaina Cilimberg

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2013/08/10 by rmstrong1980

Crowded Crowded, Book One of the Deep River High series, could have taken place in my high school. I could—and did—picture the halls I walked through those four years. I don’t normally read books set in high school. High school was a horrible time in life, between mind-numbing classes and adolescence and stupid boys. But, when a friend asked me for an honest review of her book, my love of finding new authors overrode my deep hatred of grades 9 through 12. How could I say no?

I’m glad I gave this book about a high school a chance.

Crowded opens with the main character, Cole, making a mistake that—after being caught—cost him the love of his life. Emily was, understandably, hurt and he was ashamed. Cole’s mistake and its consequences are compounded with the arrival of the new kid, Josh.

In the beginning, Josh seemed to have everything together. He was cool, he was cute, he was suave. He was also mysterious. He seemed to quickly home in on Emily, much to Cole’s dismay.

As the school year wore on, however, Josh’s mysteries deepened. He began acting oddly—which worried Emily and allowed Cole to take advantage. There were times he seemed to be on top of the world and the next moment he could be plunged into the depths of despair. At first, I considered that he might be bipolar. The truth, however, was much more disturbing.

Cilimberg does an excellent job of weaving the flawed characters into a provocative story. Her characters are not the typical pie-in-the-sky perfect Christian teens that we are so used to in Christian fiction. Her characters are deeply flawed and deeply affected by the rampant bullying that is allowed to go on in the school and at church. Cole comes from a broken, and abusive, home. Josh seems to have everything together, but is so damaged that he harms himself in unimaginable ways.

While the main characters are well-rounded, I have some issue with how the adults are portrayed. The adults—even the youth leader at their church—are sometimes portrayed as completely unaware of what is going on in the lives of the kids around them. This is, of course, a common theme running through Young Adult Fiction. However, as a volunteer in many youth groups over the years, her portrayal of youth leaders concerned me. Blake, the youth leader in the book, has a lot of good things to say, and a lot of good advice to give to Josh during his difficult time, but he allows bullying in the youth group during the meetings to reach epidemic levels and does very little, in my opinion, to discourage the bullies. Teachers and administrators at the high school overlook and don’t seem to care about the horrendous bullying, sexting, and other illicit activities going on in the school. Josh’s parents are completely shocked when the full extent of his issues come to light, even though they both live under the same roof and moved into the Deep River High school district, ultimately, for his benefit—especially since a lot of the effects are visible.

All in all, however, the book is a good one for middle and high school students. It does not gloss over the effects of bullying or other poor decisions the main characters make. The series—and its author—has great potential. I can’t wait to read the latest one.

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