Friday, July 23, 2010

Megan Meade's Guide to the McGowan Boys

Megan Meade's Guide to the McGowan Boys

Author: Kate Brian
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Release Date: Sept. 2006

Series: Stand alone title

Megan Meade has had it with the constant moving around that comes with having professional Army parents. When they announce yet another transfer, this time to South Korea!, Megan finally puts her foot down. She determines to stay in the US to finish her last two years of school. Her parents agree, but with a catch. Megan must live with family friends, a family that includes seven boys.

At first Megan looks at the prospect of having seven instant "brothers" as a chance to learn a little something about the male species. But the McGowan boys don't exactly welcome her with open arms. The youngest brothers, Ian and Caleb, feel free to go through her things, vandalize her clothing, and sabotage her bike. Middle twins Miller and Doug come with their own problems, Miller's in the form of Aspergers Syndrome and Doug's with a giant chip on his shoulder and a determination to hate Megan no matter what she does. Older brothers Evan and Finn show some promise. Evan looks like he's stepped off the pages of an Abercrombie catalog and Megan is immediately smitten. Finn offers a steady friendship that becomes a rock Megan finds herself leaning on more and more. And oldest brother Sean barely exists as part of the family.

Things become even more complicated when Megan becomes embroiled in the ongoing drama between Evan and his long time girlfriend - and Megan's soccer team rival - Hailey. Even though Megan feels like she has a home at her new school with new friends and a promising soccer season ahead, her home life is a constant battle as she tries to be accepted by the McGowan boys.

First, while the premise of this book hooked me almost immediately, it nearly became a wall-banger simply because the set-up of the situation contained the biggest plot hole I've ever encountered. Ostensibly, Megan does not want to move to South Korea when her parents are reassigned because she doesn't want to leave her friends, her crush, and her winning soccer team. This makes perfect sense. However, Megan's parents' solution is to ship her from Texas to Boston, Mass. to live with the McGowans. WTF? She didn't want to leave her current school and the life she had made, yet author Kate Brian has her moving across the country where she is the new girl who has to start all over again anyway.

I get that there is a big difference in moving within the US versus to a completely different country, but this incongruity really frustrated me. As the story unfolded, I understood why Brian need the McGowans to be strangers to Megan - something that would not have been the case had the family lived in Texas. And I honestly don't have a better solution to the problem, one that would keep Megan at her own school yet introduce the McGowans as people she's never met or doesn't have any history with. Believe me, as I writer I struggle with these kind of plot/premise problems all the time. Thankfully, the story was good enough that I forgave this beginning hiccup.

The best part of this book by far is that Brian did not do the expected. From simply knowing the premise - teen girl moves into a house with seven brothers - one might expect a lot of Mary Sueing and romance and perfect people all over the place. One thing the McGowan brothers are not is perfect. Yes, Evan is extremely handsome. But as Megan begins to play a role in his relationship with girlfriend Hailey, Evan turns into a very unlikeable character.

Too, middle brother Doug is presented up front to be belligerent and resentful of Megan's presence. He's angry that he's been made to give up his room to accommodate her, but as the story continues it becomes clear that he has deeper issues. Even when Megan goes out on a limb to help him, Doug continues to be nasty to her. He's usually at the center of the boys' efforts to gang up against Megan and freeze her out.

While brother Finn shows a lot of promise, I wish he'd been given more screen time and chance for us - the readers - to get to know him better. An artist, Finn becomes Megan's only ally and the course of their relationship is pretty clear even if it takes Megan a while to open her eyes. However, the ending of the story leaves things a tiny bit ambiguous.

Brother Miller is given some interesting treatment. As a person with Aspergers, Miller is hard to get to know, has compulsions that must be respected, and is at first wary of Megan because she represents change. But Megan persists in finding a way to befriend Miller. Their interactions are very sweet.

The three other brothers - the two youngest and oldest Sean - are only barely sketched and there mostly to cause problems for Megan. I wish Sean, especially, had been given a more significant role. As it was, the story could have been told just as well with only four brothers rather than seven.

Megan herself was an even character. She tended to be a tad bit too self-sacrificing and put up with a lot of crap from the boys with nary a complaint to anyone other than expressing her own internal frustration. In some ways she was too good to be true, forgiving and understanding where I think most teen girls would have been a lot more resentful and vindictive. Many times in the story I wanted her to lose her cool, especially in the face of what Evan did to her, because she certainly didn't deserve the treatment those boys dished out in spades. However, she proved that she could stand up for herself especially on the soccer field.

As for romance, there is a bit of the forbidden injected into the entire situation especially after John and Regina lay down the law that as long as Megan is living with them, she and the boys must treat each other like brothers and sister. It is not said explicitly but any romantic overtures between Megan and the older boys are strictly verbotten. Of course, knowing there are rules against it doesn't mean that feelings can be ignored, and problems do crop up when those feelings are acted upon.

One issue I had was with the McGowan parents, John and Regina. For the most part, they remained in the background. A little too much, actually. When the younger boys were vandalizing Megan's things and Doug was getting into trouble and smarting off to his mother, the parents showed no effort in discipline. However, when first Evan and Megan and then Finn and Megan come home late at night, they are grounded immediately. Too, Regina and John came off as rather clueless in how their sons were treating Megan. If I had boys who acted the way the McGowan brothers did at times, I'd be horrified.

The story is very good, although to talk about it is to risk revealing too much. There are several twists and turns that I did not see coming. Again I commend Kate Brian for taking a unique approach to the situation rather than the more predictable one. Yes, Megan does develop a crush on one of the brothers, and it does seem for a while like he will return her affections. But just like Megan, the reader is both surprised and frustrated by the events that unfold.

Other than the initial issue I had with the story set-up, this is a great book. I didn't want it to end which is the highest compliment I can give.

Rating: Couldn't Put It Down

No comments: