The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe is one of our school’s considerations for the grade nine de-streamed classroom. These are my thoughts on whether or not we should include this book in our book club selection. To learn more about our Inclusive Classroom Library Project, please click here.
A Brief Plot Outline
Norris Kaplan is a Black French-Canadian who is forced to move to the outskirts of Austin, Texas because his mother has a new job at the university.
He is unhappy and lonely because of the sudden move. Plus, he is snarky and rude to other people (a fun little contrast to the stereotypical Canadian).
Over time he makes unlikely friends with cheerleaders and jocks, the people he typically pokes fun at. He also finds himself uncontrollably attracted to an aloof girl named Aarti, that plays mind games with him.
Near the novel’s end, we find out that his closest friend, a cheerleader named Maddie, has had a crush on him. We glimpse Aarti’s perspective and see that Norris is also playing games, although he doesn’t realize it. In a moment of revenge, Aarti shares a secret with Maddie about Norris’ field guide.
In the end, Norris manages to alienate everyone around him. Eventually, he apologizes, and we’re left with him working hard to regain favor with the others. The ending is great because it aligns with several discussions about Hollywood movies throughout the novel.
The Field Guide… was a fun story to read. Norris is an interesting character to read. He’s clever with plenty of snappy dialogue. It’s very reminiscent of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian but with a slightly older character. I suppose it’s like most ‘Fish out of water’ stories written for teens.
Who Will Like This?
I think most Canadian teenagers will like the story because it reflects Canadian stereotypes of being too polite and Americans being too rude. In the story, the Americans are just regular people, and the Canadian boy is rude.
It’s also an easy enough read, making it a decent choice for reluctant readers.
I don’t see any problems with the text. There are plenty of issues social issues to draw from. It’s not incredibly literary, but some of the language may be challenging for some struggling readers.
This is a great book, and it’s fun to read. Some of the other books in this category are more meaningful and easily accessible for reluctant readers. The Field Guide…, however, is a more enjoyable, funnier read. So, that is a tough call.