Book Review: Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer

In alternating narratives, Sara Bennett Wealer tells the story of two talented teens--Kathryn and Brooke. Both girls are exceptional singers and, though they used to be very close, they have a rivalry that has spiraled out of control.

Brooke seems to have it all. She is the most popular girl in her class, she has talent, money, and people generally look to her to decide who's cool and who's not. Of course, life is not as perfect as it seems. Brooke is lonely and desperately wants her absent father's love and attention. She is surrounded by people who want to be near her so that they can be popular. None of her friends care about her passion for singing; they only care about parties and dances. Brooke finds a true friend in Kathryn during her junior year, but by their senior year their bitter enmity has completely clouded over any friendship they might have had.

Kathryn is more content in the shadows than in the limelight when it comes to being popular. That is, until she gets a taste for the spotlight when Brooke invites her to a sleepover their junior year. After that fateful night, Kathryn is kept busy with parties and activities and shows with all of her new friends. In particular, Brooke seems to want to hang out with Kathryn and talk about music. But, when Kathryn unwittingly betrays Brooke, their friendship crumbles and so does Kathryn's new popularity.

In the end, the only thing these two unlikely friends have in common is their desire to win at the Blackmore--a prestigious singing competition. And, it seems that both girls are willing to crush the other in order to win.

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Rival is an excellent debut for Sara Bennett Wealer.  It is always a risky venture to write a book where the main characters are complex and not always sympathetic. There were points in this book where I didn't like either of the main characters, but this dislike was because the girls are presented as real people who make real mistakes and use poor judgment. It would've been much easier for Ms. Bennett Wealer to present one of the girls as "right" and the other as "wrong." It's much more difficult to make each girl complex in their own way. 

In addition to the characters, I loved the format of this book. It alternated between main characters and from their junior to senior years. In all of this, I was not confused in the least by which character was speaking and when the scene was taking place. It was interesting to flip between the girls' senior year, when they hated each other, and their junior year, when they were inseparable. Through the shifting time periods, the relationship and the motives behind the girls' actions becomes much more complex and interesting. 

I loved that this rivalry was based, for the most part, on singing. There were some jealous moments based on boys and beauty, but that was not the crux of the girls' conflict. That story has been played out, in my opinion. In this book, the girls are vying for something real and based on hard work and merit. This focus on singing took away from some of the catty, stereotypical competition over looks that is often portrayed in YA lit. This story was far more serious and interesting than a typical girl-hates-girl story. 

This is an awesome debut novel and I cannot wait to read more from this author. I can imagine that there are several students in my classes, particularly those girls involved in chorus and one of our school's music programs that will understand the richness of this book.

**Thanks to The Teen Book Scene for providing this review copy**