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The (Best) Worst Case Scenario

by Sandy Hall

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311579,013 (2)None
Paisley meets Carter at a party the first week of college. They really hit it off-- until she discovers they have a connection. Carter used to bully her best friend, Henry, in middle school... and he lied to her about who he was. Love story over! Now she's looking for revenge-- but Carter is out to convince her he's not that bad of a guy. Is it too late to rethink this college thing? -- adapted from cover.… (more)
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Literary Merit: Okay
Characterization: Okay
Recommended: No
Level: High School/College

I really wanted to like this book, but for some reason it just didn't deliver for me. Coming fresh off the heels of Katherine Fleet's The Sound of Drowning, I really wanted a book that wasn't going to be heavy or overly emotional. I chose this one to read next because it sounded cute and light-hearted, but I found myself being incredibly annoyed by these characters and wanting them both to grow up a little. Of course, I understand this book was not meant for me, and I'm likely showing my age by complaining about the immaturity of these college freshmen, but I simply wanted both Paisley and Carter to stop everything and re-evaluate their lives several times while reading this book.

The Shortest Distance Between Love and Hate follows the story of college freshmen Paisley and Carter. After having an intense make-out session with a cute guy at her first college party, Paisley realizes that the guy she's been crushing on was a major bully to her best friend Henry in middle school. For Carter, who is dealing with a sick mom and an absent dad, all he wants is to make amends and save a blooming relationship with the girl he had a major crush on in middle school. Paisley, however, is having none of this, and soon starts a prank war to sabotage Carter's life the way he sabotaged her friend's years ago. Despite this prank war, however, Paisley and Carter both find it hard to resist the unspoken attraction between them, further blurring the lines between love and hate.

Paisley and Carter might honestly be the nastiest YA characters I've ever had the misfortune to read about, and I've read many books with dumpster fire villains. They're both extremely unlikeable, and they do and say things that make absolutely no sense in the context of the story. For example, Carter chooses to prove that he's a changed man by letting Paisley think his name is Bart and that she's never met him, as if that isn't IMMEDIATELY going to blow up in his face. Paisley then overreacts in the extreme by deciding to completely ruin Carter's life, hurting his grades, getting him fired, and doing a whole lot of other horrible stuff that I feel he really doesn't deserve. The only decent character in this story is Henry, a sweet boy with anxiety trying to navigate his growing relationship with one of his female TAs. Even though Henry was the one to get mercilessly bullied, he doesn't condone Paisley's sabotage, and actually begs her not to seek revenge on his behalf. Because Paisley has an extremely twisted sense of justice, however, she ignores this plea and continues to be horrible throughout the book.

While I will amend that I am twenty seven, and this book was clearly not written for my age group, I don't think this excuses the terrible behavior of these characters. I was a college freshman once myself, and I would've never behaved as horribly as these two characters do in this book. As someone who was relentlessly bullied, part of adulthood is learning to forgive and move on; if I met a former middle school bully, I would treat them like a person instead of assuming they were the exact same person I knew at age twelve. Paisley, however, chooses to hold the world's most bizarre and hateful grudge, making me think she could use some serious therapy to work through her revenge fantasies.

Another thing I disliked about this book was the very rushed plot. It seemed like Paisley and Carter went from hating each other, to making up, to hating each other again in an extremely unrealistic time period, acting more like cardboard cutouts of teens than real teens. While I have met some college freshmen as annoying as these two, I think it's insulting to paint the picture that this is just how college students act, as there are many I know who are kind and hard-working. The most jarring example of this rushed plot happens when Carter's dad visits him unexpectedly during his Christmas break. Angry for seemingly no reason (again), Carter chooses to take his frustration out on Paisley, blowing up in her face and telling her he never wants to see her again. While she did make him lose his job and almost sabotage his calculus grade, it's established at this point that he has already forgiven her and told her not to worry about it. As a result, this entire scene feels like an attempt to manufacture drama and create a suspenseful situation out of nothing. This manufactured drama happens a lot throughout the book, and it honestly made me want to punch both Paisley and Carter in the face as I read.

Lastly, I hate that the author essentially uses cancer and absentee parents as clickbait, mentioning these issues but never really delving into the gravity or emotional toll of either topic. Conveniently, Carter's mom's cancer seems to be in remission for the entirety of the book, and there is never once a real health scare that leads Carter and Paisley to stop their silly feud. Instead, cancer is almost used as a way for the reader to feel sympathy for Carter, without really exploring the reality of worrying about a sick parent while going to school. As with everything in this book (from Carter's job to Henry's anxiety), there are no stakes involved; it's merely full of shallow characters dealing with serious problems in an extremely shallow and unrealistic way. The story mostly focuses on the relationship between these two extremely unlikeable characters, using deep topics to make the work seem more edgy and meaningful than it actually is.

Though he's a bit boring as a character, I will say that Henry is the one saving grace in this book. He seems genuinely sweet, and sends a good message about forgiveness and not letting past trauma define you. Where Paisley decides to go crazy for nothing, Henry is willing to forgive Carter and act like an adult. I also like that he suffers from anxiety, as I also have anxiety and it's always nice to see mental illness represented in YA literature. I do hate that anxiety had to be represented in this particular book instead of a better one, but I'm still happy to see the much-needed representation. I will admit that I wanted to see Henry struggle with coming out as gay, as that's where I thought his story was heading, but I still enjoyed him as one of the only decent characters in this book (even if his storyline was a lot less meaningful than it could've been).

Overall, I'm not really sure who this book was meant for. I feel like college students would find these characters to be immature, while high school students might read this and get a very different idea of college than the reality. While there is some nice content in here about bonding with roommates (both Paisley and Carter have to learn how to get along with their respective roommates), this is probably the only useful bit of information in regards to the college experience. Paisley and Carter spend the rest of the novel fighting, making out, or going to wild parties, which is not at all how college really is for most students. I, personally, spent a lot more time studying and trying to work a social life into this than I did partying and planning pranks on other students, and I just think the nastiness between these two characters sets a terrible example for incoming freshmen.

Again, I have to clarify that I understand this book was written for teens, and therefore I might view this problematic behavior from a different lens. Considering there are no real consequences for the actions of the characters in this book, however (Carter gets his job back, Paisley never gets in serious trouble, and neither have to drop out due to bad grades), I think it's sending a harmful message to teens who think it's okay to behave like these characters. I would honestly hate to see a young teen read this and think that any of the actions Paisley and Carter take in this book are okay, and I wouldn't want to give young readers a false and damaging impression of college.

Overall, this book feels very immature, both in its writing style and in its characterization. I honestly can't think of anyone I'd recommend it to, as I think it promotes harmful ideas and isn't that interesting of a read. Despite this, however, it's certainly not the worst thing I've ever read, and is edited well enough that it makes for a coherent story. Because of this, I've rated it "OK," as it's neither horrendous nor fantastic or groundbreaking. It's simply... "meh." The characters annoyed me, the story bored me, and everything moved way too fast for me to get attached to these characters. While I'm sure there's an audience for this book somewhere out there, I was most certainly not it. ( )
  SWONroyal | Jan 30, 2020 |
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