I didn’t take the SAT when I was in high school. I actually took the ACT because I thought it would be easier, and in some ways it was, because it also had a science section, a reading section, and an English section, so I could focus less on math. I scored a 26, which seemed low at the time, but in retrospect that was the 85th percentile and I came from a poor family and I didn’t study at all before the exam. Anyhow, I remembered the stress I felt taking this test, because it kind of felt like it determined which college(s) I applied to. And I knew kids, the AP kids, mostly, who were consumed with getting a high score on the SAT.
So with that said, I thought The Taker by J.M. Steel was a really unique idea. Well. Maybe not super original, but a thought-provoking concept nevertheless. Carly’s college future depends on her SAT scores. Her dad expects her to go to his alma mater. So when her scores come back way, way, way lower than she anticipated, she is totally freaked out. And then she gets a mysterious text from The Taker, who says he will take her SATs again in return for a whatever he wants from her. Although she is scared, she agrees because she needs her scores to be higher. During the few weeks leading up to her retake of the test, Carly’s friend Jen, who works for the school paper, is preparing a big expose on “The Taker,” the mythical person who will take your SAT exam for a price. Cue Carly’s uber-paranoia.
Short summary. Time for review. Honestly, this book just made me irritated. And mad. And it pissed me off. First of all, it’s horribly cliche. Smart, pretty girl with a jock boyfriend. Awesome friends. Dorky kid next door. Pretty girl needs tutoring, dorky kid does it, pretty girl falls for dorky kid. Blah blah blah. And even worse, everything about the cliche was true. For instance, Jock Boyfriend was a man whore who was cheating on Pretty Smart Girl, and when Pretty Girl found out, she immediately fell into the arms of Dorky Kid. Seriously. Come up with something original!
Something that really bothered me, too, is that Carly and two of her friends, Jen and Molly, dub themselves the Sistas of Luv. There used to be a fourth Sista, but she became too popular to hang out with them. I thought this was exceptionally stupid, especially once it was explained that these girls formed the Sistas because they didn’t ever want to become those girls who were catty and talked about other girls behind each other’s backs. Except that is exactly what Carly does, repeatedly, throughout the novel. She talks crap about the kids who she wouldn’t hang out with because they were nerdy/dorky and she was too cool for them. She labels everyone excessively. She defines and divides. She’s no better than Tori, the girl her Jock Boyfriend cheated on her with.
Another thing that drove. me. bananas. was the actual language of the novel. Carly is constantly referring to her parents as the ‘rents, which is funny when I say it to my friends when I am joking but super irritating to read because no one really seriously calls their parents that when they talk about then. Also, I almost lost my mind over how many times she refers to getting a “frappy at ‘bucks.” First of all, frappy? Really? I am a proud holder of a gold card from Starbucks and not once have referred to a frappuccino as a frappy. Second of all, not once in my life have I referred to Starbucks as ‘bucks or a trip there as a ‘bucks run, and I live in Southern California where we are lazy and there is a Starbucks on every other corner. Seriously. There are easily ten in the city I live in, and I have never, ever called it ‘bucks. I guess I really hate books that rely on cultural references because they’re not going to be cultural references ten years down the road. But to hear Carly say them, repeatedly, made me realized that Steele doesn’t have an especially high place for teenagers — he or she must assume they’re all kind of flighty and braindead.
And then there’s the ending! I realized very early on who The Taker was and I was so annoyed by how it came to light. And the fact that Carly’s scores jumped to near-perfect when (close to 400 points)? I find that literally unbelievable. Having taken standardized tests, not to mention having an education in higher education, I am aware that the majority of students who retake tests like the SAT don’t have those kind of phenomenal leap in score like Carly did — their scores may rise, but much more modestly.
Overall, this book was terrible. Predictable plot, poor characterization, incredibly cliche, and it makes it seem like teenagers are all cheaters and dumb.