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Friday, October 31, 2008

Seek Ye First My Heart

Seek Ye First My Heart by Kimberlee R. Mendoza
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, YA
Length: Full
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 Books
Review by Black-eyed Susan

Excited about running with the popular crowd and dating older guys, Cassi Russell can’t wait to start high school. But when her friend, Beth, blackballs her from the in-crowd, Cassi decides to get even. She sets her sights on Beth’s boyfriend, Kip Bryant, the quarterback. Her plan works beautifully, but not without a problem. Cassi never intended on falling for film geek, Neil Rosenberg; the first guy to ever see beyond her physical appearance. Now she must decide what is more important - revenge and popularity, or losing Neil’s friendship and love forever.

Seek Ye First My Heart is the third in the Russell family series by this author. The focus in this book is the Russell family's third child, 15 year-old Cassi, a self-focused, boy-crazy fashionista. Frankly, when I started the book, I didn't think I would like it because I surely didn't like the main character! I found myself rolling my eyes at her vanity, petulance, and self-absorption. I was ready to pull aside her clueless fictional mother and give her a piece of my mind concerning her wild daughter.

But I kept reading and somehow, someway - very gently - Ms. Mendoza changed my view of Cassi Russell. I began to see her as a young woman who was conflicted and confused and who needed love. I started rooting for her, hoping for her. I celebrated when she took a right turn or made an important self discovery; I cringed when she fell back into old patterns and blew it. I was beginning to care about Cassi, and, more importantly, I was getting sucked into the plot.

The author has a real gift for making a point without preaching at her readers; she lets the story itself give the message. Her passion, at least in this series, seems to be to gently remind her young adult audience to not judge others by their outward appearance or reputation. When Neil, a handsome techno "geek" looks past Cassi's behavior and beyond her outer beauty (something the other guys seemed to have difficulty doing) and shows appreciation for the person inside, it shows Cassi that she can be loved for who she least she can, if she can keep her focus off of Kip Bryant, the hot-looking football jock.

Complaints? Only a couple, really. There were a few typos and one glaring editing snafu that got missed. The previous book in the series tells us about Cassi's older brother Nick. He had a wonderful girlfriend named Sherry who dies tragically in an automobile accident. In some earlier parts of this current story, the deceased teen is correctly labeled as "Sherry", but when Cassi gets a chance to comfort her brother, she refers to his girlfriend as "Shelly." Oops!

There are also some details that confused me a bit. For instance, the author mentioned the "ASB" posters on the walls of the high school. This reader, albeit a few years out of high school, has no idea what those are. Nor could I get any clues from an internet search. And where I'm from, cheerleaders might wear their uniforms to school on a game day, but on the first day of school AND on the second day? I found it somewhat difficult to believe that the cheerleaders were parading around school in their uniforms on a daily basis. I also fear that the author's mention of current movie and music titles will somewhat limit the appeal of an otherwise timeless story line.

Nonetheless, I would recommend Seek Ye First My Heart to any teenager looking for a clean and compelling romance to read between classes. Teens will resonate with the ubiquitous cliques and camaraderie, as well as the fears and insecurities of Ms. Mendoza's characters. Best of all, they will discover the importance of loving others instead of judging them without even realize there is a lesson being learned.