Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe by Shelley Coriell
Amulet Books, 299 Pages
Expected US Release Date: May 1, 2012 (though I saw it out at 2 of my local Barnes & Nobles already!)
Source: eARC from Amulet/ABRAMS via NetGalley - thank you!
Big-hearted Chloe Camden is the queen of her universe until her best friend shreds her reputation and her school counselor axes her junior independent study project. Chloe is forced to take on a meaningful project in order to pass, and so she joins her school's struggling radio station, where the other students don't find her too queenly. Ostracized by her former BFs and struggling with her beloved Grams's mental deterioration, lonely Chloe ends up hosting a call-in show that gets the station much-needed publicity and, in the end, trouble. She also befriends radio techie and loner Duncan Moore, a quiet soul with a romantic heart. On and off the air, Chloe faces her loneliness and helps others find the fun and joy in everyday life. Readers will fall in love with Chloe as she falls in love with the radio station and the misfits who call it home.
...she tapped my forehead. "What's in here, Poppy, is scarier than anything you'll encounter in the depths of the ocean. An imagination is a powerful thing."
When I first started the book, I wasn't too big on it. I really liked the premise (my brother is a radio dj) and felt it had promise, but the first few chapters turned me off because it was too "teen writing." There were so many "BFF"-this and "BFF"-that...it was that completely stereotypical tween- and teen-talk no one actually does in real life (at least, I've never heard it). I swore that if I saw a "totes magotes" I was going to delete the file right then and there. And then when the text messages that had "text talk" came in, I was about thisclose to giving up. (Who writes "rn b%ts" for rain boots?!) It was utterly distracting. All I could think was how much time it would take up in real life if someone were to write that way, and it kept drawing me back out as a reader, making it hard to get past. (Or maybe I'm just some curmudgeonly old 25-year-old. This could be a possibility.)
But by the end, I'm really glad I pushed through. It's not my favourite book, but it turns into a sweet, coming-into-her-own story of a loudmouth girl finding her voice and knowing when to listen.
Chloe Camden is a junior forced to take on the job of promoter for the struggling school radio station for her Junior Independent Study Program (JISP for short). She's a good character, if not over the top - but she's meant to be (her eventual radio personality is Queen Chloe, after all), so it works in an endearing way. At the same time she joins the station, her two Best Friends Forever turn into Enemies, cutting her out of their circle for inexplicable reasons. As the story progresses, Chloe learns self-awareness and restraint, finding the power of a voice and when to use it.
I really loved Duncan, the main interest - he was sweet and subtle, in that quiet, strong way we love in male love interests. He's deeper than appears, obviously a bit tortured, and dependable. I loved his scraggly scarves and how they're an extension of him; they were a clever character detail. The only thing I was disappointed in was how he became a love interest for Chloe: it felt very fast. Like all of a sudden, she glances up, and POOF: crush.
Something I really connected with was the idea of the radio station becoming Chloe's family. I was a journalism girl in high school and you really do grow to love and respect everyone who works around you, making it into some dysfunctionally lovable family. When all your hearts go into producing something, a certain understanding and closeness happens; and I thought it was done really well in the book. I loved the element of each staffer at the radio station having a personal stake and reason to being there, that the radio station helped them all in some way.
In fact, family was a nice surprise to have in this book. While I understand the strife and plot gold a broken or breaking family can have for a novel, it's refreshing to see one where characters are doing their best to keep one together or support one. Lots of novels I've read recently are about escaping the turbulent family or hiding from the pressures; this one faces those head-on.
I also felt like Shelley Coriell did very well with high school friendships, illustrating quite accurately how fair-weather they can be, how entirely consuming and heartbreaking and uplifting they can be. In high school, friendships are filled with a fierce loyalty and a passionate connection; but they're also easily broken, easily hurt, and entirely flimsy. Every character interaction was a prime example of all the stages of friendship we can go through.
I was surprised at all the heavy issues the book tackled as well, but truthfully...I didn't quite feel as bad for Chloe? I'm not trying to diminish her problems, Parkinson's Disease is serious and the strains it can put on a family are very real and very trying. It just seemed to me that in the hierarchy of problems the rest of the characters in the book had (mom dying, parents having an affair and divorcing, mom addicted to meth, etc.)...Chloe's wasn't that high on the chain, y'know? Maybe that's the point, it makes her that much more selfish in the beginning; but I couldn't help but wish she'd pay more attention and stop wallowing in self-pity.
Despite some stylistic distractions and a few plot disappointments, Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe is a wonderful high school novel that captures how one pivotal element can influence our lives, how people can change us, how having a voice can help us become who we're meant to be; even when that means knowing when to shut up and listen.
4 Stars / 5