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Review: Rival

Rival is the debut novel for author Sara Bennett Wealer. It was released on February 15, 2011 in hardcover and eBook formats. It is available online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble in both formats.

Published by HarperTeen, the hardcover is 336 pages.

Rival is one of the books that can be chosen for the 2011 Debut Author Challenge hosted by Kristi at TheStorySiren.com and was the very first of my original twelve picks.

Goodreads description:

What if your worst enemy turned out to be the best friend you ever had?

Meet Brooke: Popular, powerful and hating every minute of it, she’s the “It” girl at Douglas High in Lake Champion, Minnesota. Her real ambition? Using her operatic mezzo as a ticket back to NYC, where her family lived before her dad ran off with an up and coming male movie star.

Now meet Kathryn: An overachieving soprano with an underachieving savings account, she’s been a leper ever since Brooke punched her at a party junior year. For Kath, music is the key to a much-needed college scholarship.

The stage is set for a high-stakes duet between the two seniors as they prepare for the prestigious Blackmore competition. Brooke and Kathryn work toward the Blackmore with eyes not just on first prize but on one another, each still stinging from a past that started with friendship and ended in betrayal. With competition day nearing, Brooke dreams of escaping the in-crowd for life as a professional singer, but her scheming BFF Chloe has other plans. And when Kathryn gets an unlikely invitation to Homecoming, she suspects Brooke of trying to sabotage her with one last public humiliation.

As pressures mount, Brooke starts to sense that the person she hates most might just be the best friend she ever had. But Kathryn has a decision to make. Can she forgive? Or are some rivalries for life?

***

No matter which side of the fence you’re on, the grass always appears greener on the other side.

For Kathryn Pease, her one-time best friend Brooke Dempsey has everything. She’s popular, confident and stylish. She has money. She lived in New York. She’s been to the Met. She wouldn’t be stuck in Minnesota after high school. For someone like Brooke there are endless possibilities. Brooke isn’t hanging all her hopes on winning the Blackmore competition like she is.

For Brooke, Kathryn is the lucky one. She is beautiful and petite. Her voice is flawless. She has a father who loves her and a family who acts like a family should. She doesn’t have two brothers who put her down. There is no way Kathryn could want out of Minnesota as badly as she does. And most of all she doesn’t have to disguise who she is or justify her passion for music to anyone. Kathryn doesn’t need to win the Blackmore competition like she does.

As these two former best-friends get ready for the biggest competition of their lives will they let their personal rivalry get in the way of their success?

***

Rival is a beautifully written, bittersweet story about two girls who are friends-turned-enemies, both with the same appreciation for and love of music, and each who envies something the other has.

Their friendship is doomed from the start as each girl, for very different reasons, cannot be honest with the other, which leads to some rather unfortunate misunderstandings and ultimately to its collapse.

Each chapter alternates between Brooke’s and Kathryn’s perspective and also between the present and the events that led up to the breakdown of their friendship. Readers get the opportunity to see both sides and may find that assigning blame isn’t quite so easy.

Rival is quite a surprise and so much more than just a “mean girls” story. It is far more richly developed than it would seem based on the title and description.

This is not merely a snarky, one-upmanship that escalates into a showdown with one man standing. Author Sara Bennett Wealer has given her characters much more depth and complexity than is typical in this type of story, allowing readers to feel compassion for both the underdog and the bully.

But, it is still in keeping with other stories in this genre and tremendously entertaining. It’s got jealousy, diabolical pranks, a complete social freeze-out, a herd of A-Lister followers ready, willing and able to do whatever the Queen B says, and the requisite lovable geeky friend waiting in the wings ready to pick up the pieces.

Even in a month with so many great releases, Rival is a debut that you will not want to miss. Author Sara Bennett Wealer is an exceptional writer and one to keep on your watch list!

Reviewer gives this book [rating=5]

On a personal note:

I was completely surprised by this book. I was expecting something so totally different. I was thinking catfights and major sabotage. But this story was so much better. Sadder, yes. Better, oh absolutely.

I immediately went in expecting to hate Brooke – the rich, popular girl. Isn’t her character always the one to be hated? But I actually thought she had the most growth and became the better of the two. Still. Tough to choose.

I loved that the author used musical/operatic terms to loosely divide the sections of the story, leading up to the crescendo and finally to the resolution. So clever.

And I am so glad that this story didn’t end up being one that revolved only around the musical competition or end up being about some boy.

My favorite phrase from this book – I just had to include it as it’s just so wicked:

The human voice, it turns out, just isn’t that strong. Human hatred, on the other hand, is.

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