First Date by Krista McGee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
First Date is a fun, engaging and sweet read with some thoughtful moments focusing on MC Addy's strongly held Christian faith. 17 yo Addy, a junior at her Christian high school, has her plate pretty full with her studies, golf, and hanging with her characterific bff Lexi. Addy doesn't focus on, or have much respect for, teen idols, reality tv, power shopping or other trendy stuff that would distract her from her goals - getting good grades and getting into an Ivy League college. So she is mystified when her principal informs her that he's selected her to represent their school on the hot new reality show, Book of Love, "a cross between America's New Star, Survivor, and The Bachelor, with a little Miss America thrown in," where 100 girls will be competing to be the prom date of the President's swoon-worthy son, Jonathan Jackson. She's even more nonplussed when her Uncle Mike, who stepped in to raise her when her missionary parents were killed, thinks it's a good idea (honestly, this isn't a spoiler, it's on like page 11!). Addy's reluctance stems not only from the show's general lack of appeal to her likes and preferences. She also feels pretty inadequate and scared. Both the principal and her uncle pitch this as an opportunity to not only represent the school, but to represent her faith as well - "to give Jesus some good press for a change." This scares Addy even more, since she's always perceived the pressure to live up to her parents' rather heroic example, but felt utterly inadequate to do so. Well, fortunately for us readers, she steps up her game, and takes on the challenge of participating on the show. Hilarity, some tears and changes for Addy ensue. Addy is not your typical reality show contestant, as you might guess, and her unorthodox approach turns out to not only appeal to Jonathan, but to the show's millions of viewers as well. Her biggest challenges, however, focus not on negotiating the twists and turns of the rather cutthroat competition (100 teenage girls out for blood - yikes!), but on her growing realization that the opportunity to share her faith and beliefs is, in fact, why God has called her to be on the show, and that her fears are letting it slip away.
Sometimes it's hard to create characters with a strong sense of faith and purpose without making them seem cardboardy or cheesy. That is so not the case with Addy, who comes across as real and dimensional. This isn't a book about angst acted out with drugs, sex and rebellion. Addy is a "nice girl," but she doesn't come across as naive or without her own struggles and issues, and it's clear that she lives in the real world teens inhabit. Her friends Lexi and Kara also come across as charming supporting characters who add to the fun and the sense of reality. Most of the male characters are a bit on the "meh" side, to me at least, and seem there mostly to move things along (on more than one occasion I really had to ask, "Uncle Mike, what were you thinking!"), but they do that pretty effectively. Jonathan is a pretty cool guy, and also comes across as real and relatable. The story takes a few twists and turns, and keeps you reading, even as you come to realize that Addy is pretty much up to anything reality tv and a few unexpected developments can throw at her. I really hadn't realized until I read the study questions at the end (nice idea, btw, even if you're reading them all by yourself), that this is loosely based on the book of Esther (kind of like Troy High is loosely based on The Iliad). To me, that added some fun, and shed some more light on where the author was coming from, but it doesn't need that to be a cute book with a thoughtful theme about being a Christian in a world that is far from that belief system.
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