Disclosure: This review is based upon a copy of the book provided by the publisher. No other consideration was offered.
Here’s what Huntley Fitzpatrick’s The Boy Most Likely To has going for it: Funny, thoughtful characters, a sense of genuine development and movement on the part of its stars, and some very interesting explorations of class and culture. However, in the end I found it a slightly unsatisfying read, an issue I often experience with books revolving around the subject of teen pregnancy. Aside from the fact that it’s fairly unusual to see pregnancy in YA without having it become the key defining factor of the plot (rather than an incidental or secondary plot arc), and that it’s unusual to see contemporaries where pregnancy doesn’t push the book into Issue Book territory, it’s often handled in very predictable ways that don’t really work for me, shall we say.
Tim Mason is, to put it bluntly, rather a teenage loser. The spoilt son of a wealthy family, he’s blown through a variety of schools and sentenced himself to a lifestyle of dissolution (and maybe a chance at the GED at some point) — the epitome of class and social failure, and the subject of frequent castigation from his father. Alice Garrett, meanwhile, is the child of a big family that’s trying to stay above water after her father was involved in a serious car accident. The family’s store is rapidly going under despite her best efforts, and her entire life is being consumed with caring for her siblings and putting the rest of her plans on hold.
Their worlds collide when Alice’s brother offers space in the garage apartment to Tim after his father kicks him out, ordering him to clean up his act by Christmas…or else. Tim’s been nursing a crush on Alice for years, but being in close proximity to her is a bit intense, especially as he’s trying to sort out whether he wants to turn into a responsible human being or sink deeper into his own pity party. Alice, meanwhile, is irked about the interloper’s presence, but that doesn’t stop strange tensions from building between them as they start to wonder whether perhaps there might be something more complicated than a hesitant friendship going on.
Unfortunately, that’s run off the rails when a one night stand shows up with a baby, pronouncing Tim the father. She’s already planned to adopt the child out, but under pressure from her grandfather, she’s introducing the kid to Tim — who isn’t exactly thrilled, especially since it lowers Alice’s estimation of him pretty considerably. Tim’s friends question whether the kid is even really his while he combs his brain for any memory of the encounter, which happened during an alcoholic blackout. Along the way, he starts to wonder if perhaps he’s interested in fathering and taking on an active role in his son’s life…if Cal is even his son.
In terms of things I really enjoyed about The Boy Most Likely To, I found the dialogue and dynamic between the characters really engaging and true to life. They are well characterised, even if they fall out along some familiar issue book stereotypes (it would have been interesting, for example, to see a boy holding up a struggling family, and a gay romance, but we can’t have everything). Parts of the book are genuinely both sweet and funny, and the development of Tim and Alice’s relationship doesn’t feel stiff or forced — he genuinely cares for her and he’s willing to go to considerable lengths to both support and protect her.
The exploration of class was also really important, and I’m glad to see more YA authors taking class on. Tim comes from an extremely privileged background, complete with nice car and everything paid for, including a cozy college fund. He’s never had to question whether money will be available and a big part of the story is his realisation that money doesn’t rain down from the sky, which forces him to grow up in a hurry. While Tim’s father is the total stereotypical overburdening father of yore, the class tensions there run deep, especially when contrasted with Alice’s.
Alice’s family wasn’t exactly wealthy to begin with, but with her father working and the store running smoothly, and her mother able to put in more hours because she wasn’t consumed with caring for her husband, they made it work. Despite a passel of siblings, the family got by and were reasonably comfortable, though hardly rolling in it. Now, her family is fighting for every penny, paying for her father’s very expensive care only by virtue of hush money from the politician who hit him. For Tim, it’s a real wakeup call to learn about how the actual world works for the vast majority of us — we are all one accident or bad event away from a real financial crisis, and The Boy Most Likely To really explores that.
However. Here I am going to get a bit spoilery, though not terribly so, because you may have predicted how things shake out in the end (hint: Tim and Alice get together). It turns out, Tim discovers after intrepid genetic testing, that Cal is not his son — and then Cal gets adopted by friends, thereby allowing Tim the convenience of having the child in his life after he’s grown attached, without any of the direct responsibility. It was a suspiciously neat resolution to a problem people face every day that can’t be solved as easily. For teens who don’t get abortions (for whatever reason) the tradeoff between adoption and keeping the child is a complicated one. Open adoption is getting more common, which is great, but even then it’s hardly easy.
In this case, it was played off as a neat happily ever after rather than the nuanced and complex situation that it really was. I would have liked to see that explored much more, because the ending left me feeling sort of…deflated.