Friday, November 16, 2012

What Have You Done?: A Review of You by Charles Benoit

Title: You
Author: Charles Benoit
Edition: HarperTeen (Hardcover, 2010)
Pages: 223
How I Came by This Book: The author, Charles Benoit, lives in the Rochester area and came into the bookstore that I work at during Banned Books Week. He mentioned that he'd written a YA novel that had been banned for content in Florida and, me being me, I checked it out of my library.

About the Author: Charles Benoit is a former high school teacher and the Edgar Award-nominated author of three adult mystery novels. You is his first book for young-adult readers. His second young-adult novel, Fall from Grace, is out now. He lives in Rochester, New York. You can visit him online at

Synopsis: This wasn't the way it was supposed to go.

You're just a typical fifteen-year-old sophomore, an average guy named Kyle Chase. This can't be happening to you. But then, how do you explain all the blood? How do you explain how you got here in the first place?

There had to have been signs, had to have been some clues it was coming. Did you miss them, or ignore them?

Maybe if you can figure out where it all went wrong, you can still make it right. Or is it already too late?

Think fast, Kyle. Time's running out. How did this happen?

In his stunning young-adult debut, Charles Benoit mixes riveting tension with an insightful--and unsettling--portrait of an ordinary teen in a tale that is taut, powerful, and shattering.

Review: The first thing that I notice about the well-dressed man who has just walked into the bookstore is his hat. I'm a girl who loves hats. Hats are kind of my thing. I wear them all the time. Fedoras. Newsboy caps. If I could get away with a beret, I would wear one. I don't think my face is the right shape.

This hat is small and brimmed and I can't help but wonder where he found it. He's just looking around so I decide not to bother him but as he walks up to the front counter he notices I'm reading. In response to his query as to which novel I'm buried in, I tell him that it's Catcher in the Rye and that I really feel as if I should have read it when I was younger because I can't stand Holden Caulfield. I'm reading it for Banned Books Week, I explain. It's really the only reason why I'm reading it. He mentions that he's an author and that his book, You, was banned in Florida. "Oh boy," I think. "A self-promoting author. If I mention I've never heard of him will he be offended?" All I say is that I'll check it out someday, not sure if I really mean it or not. But curiosity catches hold of me and I end up searching out the title of the book at my library a few weeks later. Lo and behold, there it is. "All right," I say to myself, reaching out to grab it off the shelf. "We'll see how this goes."

Read this book. Seriously. Don't even stop to read this review. Okay, do stop to read this review, but only because I took the time to write it. But then go and read this book.

Charles Benoit's novel of teen angst, smirking boys, and personal responsibility for our actions is taut and well-paced. I see that phrase all the time, but I always thought it was one of those things that book reviewers at big magazines and newspapers threw in to make their reviews a little longer. This book is the definition of both "taut" and "well-paced." And "gripping." And about a dozen other overused adjectives that sometimes actually are necessary to describe a novel.

Kyle Chase is a 15-year-old boy who screwed up in middle school and had to go to Midlands instead of the better high school he could have gone to. He's bitter, angry, rebellious, and lost. Oh, and did I mention? He's you. Or, rather, you are him.

The whole novel is told in second person, which gives it a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure flavor. The problem is that the adventure has already been chosen for you. There's no turning back, no changing what is to come for you. You are hurtled through the first semester of your tenth-grade year at breakneck speed as you make one poor decision after another. In the end you will pay for your actions, learning all too late that your teachers were right: you are responsible for yourself and there are repercussions for behaving badly.

Does anyone else remember these? And the fact that you almost always died horribly? Good times.

The great thing about the second person narrative is that you are just as lost and bitter and alone as Kyle. You don't know anything that he doesn't know. You don't know if Ashley likes you back. You don't know what the deal is with the mysterious new kid, Zack. You're learning things right along with Kyle. You are fully immersed in the story like no other novel has immersed you before. (Unless, of course, you've read a second person POV novel before. I haven't, so this was all new to me.) In the end, you are just as shocked about how things have ended up as he is. Even though you, the reader, knew all along that something was coming, you aren't quite prepared for what it is.

Benoit's characters and dialogue are realistic and well done. Being a high school teacher obviously taught him a lot about teenagers because he nails it. All of it. He grabs you, the reader, and pulls you into the psyche of a teenage boy who feels like he could have been you in high school if things had been different. Hell, maybe he was you in high school. The other characters--Zack, Jake the Jock, Ashley, Kyle's friends, teachers, parents--are both recognizable figures from real life and stock characters like those featured in the latest teen move. There's a little bit of both in each of them, which makes for easier story-telling as well as easier immersion into Kyle's world. His attitudes are also recognizable. Anyone below the age of at least thirty who has gone through the public school system will remember having some of those very same thoughts when they were younger. I know I did.

I think my only real issue with the novel is that the foreshadowing is thick and obvious. And yet, just as the synopsis says, "There had to have been signs, had to have been some clues it was coming. Did you miss them, or ignore them?" While the reader will definitely see them, Kyle does not. And he should have. They were blaring at him from everywhere. In the end, he has to learn a hard lesson because he didn't pay attention on the way there. That's the novel's real message: what you are doing is important and can change life for you in ways you never imagined. There are clues all around you as to how your life is going. Look for them. Listen to them. Don't make the same mistakes.

This is a powerful novel, superbly crafted, and well worth the read. Go. Now. Don't hesitate for a moment. Just pick it up and read it. I promise you won't be sorry.

I'm giving You five out of five Gabriels.



  1. Well, that convinced me! *Adds you to Goodreads list of books to read*

    1. When you read/review it, post the link here. :D