Saturday, February 28, 2009

Review: O.Y.L. by Scott Heydt

Tags: middle grade, domestic violence, infatuation

Jenna Durstine has not had an easy past couple of years. Her dad is in prison for domestic violence, and yet his presence burdens and frightens her with every move she makes. She is in love with her English teacher, Mr. Sansom, whose intelligence and genuine concern and interest in her make her nearly dizzy with happiness. He is her handsome protector…and totally O.Y.L.: out of her league.

A series of terrifying events leads Jenna into feeling betrayed by people whom she love, and she attempts to retaliate by taking advantage of and hurting those who love her. It will take an acceptance of the past and lots of growing up before Jenna realizes her true feelings and learns to control her behavior.

O.Y.L. was an amateur literary attempt, and it shows. Besides for grammatical and syntactic inconsistencies, the characters are caricatures of people with serious and important issues. This book touches upon themes that every teen must face when growing up—the distinction between love and infatuation, selfishness and selflessness—but the issues are handled awkwardly and incompletely. I was very disappointed in O.Y.L., but can see why, for example, middle school girls might be able to finish this book.

Rating: 1 out of 5


  1. Thanks for a candid review. Will be avoiding this.

  2. Stephanie...I have to chime in here and respectfully disagree with your review. As the author of OYL, I can handle criticism, but with a rating of 1 out of 5, you've obviously missed the power of this with students the age it's meant for. Reading from an adult, English major perspective, it may seem to fit some of your descriptions, but I work every day as a classroom teacher around the students these characters are based on. The students inside and outside my school who have read OYL speak to me about how on point it is with their experiences and emotions. They have had nothing but positive comments about the novel and how they connect with it.

    Also, I find it hard to believe that a book that rates a 1 could also be reviewed this way by authors and reading specialists alike:

    “In his debut novel, Scott Heydt taps into a wellspring of teenage angst as he takes the reader on a
    journey through the awkward and uncertain world of adolescent love. Without a map or
    guidebook to help her, Jenna Durstine, a bright yet innocent ninth grader, teeters on the edge of
    disaster as powerful emotions draw her toward forbidden love. The characters, drawn from the
    author’s rich experience in the classroom, are vivid and their interactions are familiar to anyone
    who has survived adolescence. O. Y. L. is a gripping novel guaranteed to captivate the reader to
    the very end. A must read for adults both young and old.”

    ~John Evans, author of The Cut

    “Symbolism and description are masterfully woven throughout this book as the reader
    accompanies Jenna on her journey of self-discovery. Jenna, who has more than her fair share of
    teenage angst, takes us along for the ride as she discovers the delicate balance of guarding her
    heart without closing it completely. In today’s modern teenage world, when it feels like
    everything and everyone is against you, Scott Heydt portrays an encouraging, yet realistic tale of
    strength, courage, and hope!”

    ~Kelly Houston Szemanek, Reading Specialist

    Hundreds of students have already enjoyed OYL, and I hope that readers of your blog will not avoid a read like this simply because of one review.


    Scott Heydt
    "Live, Learn, Teach"

  3. Scott, thank you for stopping by and being able to offer a different perspective than me on OYL. I always think of reviews as being only one person's opinion, and yet my policy is to be honest about my thoughts on any book that I read, and so I try to think of who this book might be good for if it didn't do it for me. I think that middle school girls--whose recommendations of OYL are posted on your website and on the back of the book--will be able to connect with Jenna's story far better than I did.

    That being said, while OYL may attempt to provide readers with important messages (yes, I did read the literary circle discussion questions at the back of the book), I felt that the writing detracted from the message. When I say that the characters are caricatures, I do believe that they are all one-dimensional, lacking in multiple wants and conflicts and loves. The encounter at school between Jenna and her dad, for example, was handled much too quickly and suddenly; I never got an adequate picture of the father character, and thought that perhaps he was in the story as a purely evil character, in which case the lack of complexity fails to be engaging.

    Similarly, simple common-knowledge inaccuracies bugged me right from the start. If Shakespeare is going to be a central part of the story, as the way by which Mr. Sansom and Jenna connect, then textbook page mentions should be consistent within a few paragraphs of one another. And Juliet was thirteen when she met Romeo, not "a few years older" than high school freshmen. This is common knowledge.

    You have good intentions in writing this book as a way to present a difficult issue to your fifth grade students, for example, or middle schoolers. I encourage you to read more middle grade/YA books that tackle this subject successfully (Teach Me by R.A. Nelson deals with a similar subject about a teacher-student relationship) and to incorporate what you learn from reading other authors into your next endeavors. I sincerely wish you all the best, as I believe you have the potential to make your message come across clearer should you choose to write more.

  4. Steph:

    I appreciate your reply. In regards to "common knowledge inaccuracies", common knowledge to one does not necessarily hold all the truth. Yes, while Shakespeare converted Juliet's age down to just below 14, Arthur Brooke, one of his heaviest influences, had her age at 16. As a primary source for Shakespeare, this is what I used as my model for the story. Her age, at best, is debatable.

    "Bandello has Julietta as 18, Brooke makes Juliet 16, and Shakespeare lowers her age even father to almost 14.
    It is not certain whether Shakespeare did use all of these sources but there is an obvious connection between them. The most influential for Shakespeare seems to have been the narrative poem by Arthur Brooke."

    Daryl, the father figure in the story, achieves his back story from the flashbacks of Jenna and Valerie as they describe how they reached that point in their lives. A distant, abusive parent whose actions make Jenna uncertain about her relationships with men. Far from just an evil character, he represents the antithesis of Sansom.



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