Review: The Avery Shaw Experiment by Kelly Oram

Title The Avery Shaw Experiment
Author Kelly Oram
Published May 4th, 2013 by Bluefields
Pages 278 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Romance, Humour
Part of a Series? No
Source & Format Purchased from Amazon.com, eBook
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.com

Synopsis

When Avery Shaw’s heart is shattered by her life-long best friend, she chooses to deal with it the only way she knows how—scientifically.

The state science fair is coming up and Avery decides to use her broken heart as the topic of her experiment. She’s going to find the cure. By forcing herself to experience the seven stages of grief through a series of social tests, she believes she will be able to get over Aiden Kennedy and make herself ready to love again. But she can’t do this experiment alone, and her partner (ex partner!) is the one who broke her heart.

Avery finds the solution to her troubles in the form of Aiden’s older brother Grayson. The gorgeous womanizer is about to be kicked off the school basketball team for failing physics. He’s in need of a good tutor and some serious extra credit. But when Avery recruits the lovable Grayson to be her “objective outside observer,” she gets a whole lot more than she bargained for, because Grayson has a theory of his own: Avery doesn’t need to grieve. She needs to live. And if there’s one thing Grayson Kennedy is good at, it’s living life to the fullest.

“I simply couldn’t understand how this happened. Was the earth suddenly titled off its axis? Were the boundaries of space and time blurring, causing reality to splinter off into alternative universes? Was Park City, Utah, secretly the Devi’s Gate and I’d fallen into hell without knowing it?”

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. At least, that’s Avery Shaw’s philosophy. After having her heart broken by her lifelong best friend and secret crush, Aiden Kennedy, sixteen-year-old Avery decides to use her own life experience as the inspiration for this year’s science fair entry. She hypothesizes that by experiencing the traditional stages of the grieving process after a devastating breakup, one can mend a broken heart and learn to love again. In need of an impartial observer in order to ensure the reliability of the study, Avery recruits the help of eighteen-year-old Grayson Kennedy, fellow Spanish Fork High student and elder brother of the boy who broke Avery’s heart in the first place. What Avery fails to calculate is that Grayson might very well have his own ‘Avery Shaw Experiment’ in the works, and when these two elements combine, the results might prove combustible.

“She started referring to our time together as Life After Aiden. I called it Post Shower Avery and Grayson. She usually got mad at me for that. Usually I considered the times she didn’t bother to yell at me a small victory.”

Avery and Aiden’s lives have been intertwined for as long as Avery can remember. Ever since their mothers met in prenatal yoga they have been inseparable, even going so far as to celebrate their birthdays together every year, which coincidentally happen to fall on the same day – February 11, 1997 (Blogger’s Note: There’s nothing like a protagonist who is born in the late ’90’s to make one suddenly feel old). So, when Aiden informs Avery that he thinks they should spend some time apart, abruptly quits the science club and bails on their annual science fair project, Avery’s world is thrown into chaos. Enter Grayson Kennedy.

“Avery Shaw had suddenly barged into so much more than just my shower. She’d also crashed into my head in a way I never thought possible and maybe even wormed her way into my heart a little bit. I had no freaking clue how to handle that, much less what to do about it. But I had to do something.”

Grayson is a fascinating character. A mere eighteen-months older than the two, Grayson has always been the impartial observer that has watched Avery and Aiden’s relationship develop from afar. But where Avery sees unrealized romantic love, Grayson sees an increasingly toxic and codependent friendship that stifles both parties’ ability to grow and evolve past the ties that once bound them together. Appalled by his brother’s behaviour toward Avery and suddenly seeing her in a new light after a particularly steamy incident involving the Kennedy’s shower, Grayson takes it upon himself to conduct his very own ‘Avery Shaw Experiment’ that will help exorcise his brother from Avery’s heart and allow her to grow into the self-assured, confident woman he knows she has the potential to become.

“She rolled her eyes, completely missing my meaning. “You’re Grayson Kennedy. I’m sure you’ve already got your sights set on three or four different girls, and we aren’t even in the front door yet.”
Her comment stung. She hadn’t meant it to be mean, and honestly, I totally deserved it, but things were changing for me, and I didn’t like that I was the only one noticing. That moment was the first time I realized that I really, really liked Avery, and that I wanted her to like me too. For real like me.”

Popular, suggestive, confident, and often times a little crude, Grayson is the classic unapologetic womanizer who changes his ways for the love of a good woman, a character type we often see again and again in young adult literature. Thankfully, there is a little more to Grayson than initially meets the eye. Introspective, intelligent, and more observant than Avery gives him credit for, Grayson is willing to step outside of his comfort zone and shows a considerable amount of growth throughout the novel, and in doing so breaks through the ordinary stereotypical construction of this sort of character.

“Despite my claims to Grayson that loving to learn didn’t make me a dork, the truth is, I knew I was a geek. I didn’t mind, though. I really did enjoy learning, and I spent my entire life in the blissful world of social obscurity. Grayson Kennedy changed all that in the span of a single lunch period.”

That isn’t to imply that his character is without problems, however. While I appreciate that Grayson felt protective toward Avery and obviously cared a great deal about her, because Grayson’s personality is so dominant and self-assured and Avery is rather meek, there were times when his attentions felt a little overbearing. He has a tendency to coddle her and treat her as an incapable child, which I think does a disservice to Avery’s character, who is otherwise portrayed as intelligent and capable, and seems to accentuate the mere fourteen-month age difference between them. I also couldn’t help but question why Avery needed to change in the first place. As the above quote suggests, she was comfortable, dare I even say happy, with who she was before Grayson’s little experiment. Apart from Aiden she has a group of loyal friends in the science club and never seems to have an issue with her label as a ‘nerd’. While I understood that some of Grayson’s suggestions were meant to help Avery conquer her anxiety and feel more comfortable in social situations, other aspects of the story, like her makeover, seemed purely for Grayson’s benefit. Thankfully, Grayson is willing to change as well, which somewhat negated my irritation concerning his attempts to make over Avery. Whether he’s learning Newton’s laws of motion during a friendly game of bowling with the science club or discovering a newfound interest in the social sciences, Grayson grew just as much, if not more, than Avery did over the course of the novel. Ultimately, he is a better person for his relationship with Avery, and is not solely interested in changing her to suit his preferences.

“But look at you,” I said. “You always thought I was like a sister too. If you can change your mind, then he can too. He just needs a wakeup call.”
“Hey now, you can’t just go jumping into the shower with every guy you know. That’s totally our thing.”

Avery Shaw was initially a more difficult character to warm up to. Perpetually on the verge of tears and painfully shy to the point that dancing in public sends her into paroxysms of anxiety, Avery certainly had the potential to be rather insipid and annoying. Typically, I tend to prefer female heroines who are more confident and outgoing, but in this case Avery’s submissive personality didn’t deter me from enjoying the overall story. There were glimmers of potential in Avery, such as when she applies her understanding of physics to a particularly interesting game of pool, that managed to save her being an otherwise insufferable heroine. Do I wish she could have been a more assertive and interesting character? Definitely, but there was nothing inherently offensive about her, which is more than I can say for characters in other novels I’ve read recently. In the end, she’s a sweet but largely forgettable heroine.

“You know what I think it was?” he asked. At first I didn’t know what he was talking about. He pointed at the statue and said, “This is you. You are fully evolved. I’m still just here…” He walked over to the next figure down the line – a statue of good old Cro-Magnon Man.
Somehow I managed not to smile. I studied the less-evolved human a moment and then pushed Aiden a little further down the line. Neanderthal Man was tempting, but I walked him all the way back to Homo Erectus.”

What I did appreciate was Oram’s rather innovative twist on the traditionally intelligent female archetype we ordinarily see in young adult novels. While there are an innumerable number of stories that feature the ubiquitous bookworm, which I can only assume is a thinly-veiled attempt by some authors to appeal to their readership, there are very few protagonists, particularly females, who show an interest in the hard sciences. Much like Manda Collin’s Egyptologist heroine Cecily Hurston in How To Dance With A Duke, I appreciated that Oram thought outside of the box, and did not automatically equate intelligence with an interest in the arts. That said, we’re still given the socially awkward and painfully shy protagonist who somehow catches the attention of the most handsome and popular boy in school. Take that as you will. In this instance, however, I had less of a problem with this given that Grayson and Avery already have a significant history. While I wasn’t entirely convinced by the sudden depth and ferocity of Grayson’s feelings for Avery, they did have a much more solid foundation than many romantic relationships I’ve encountered in other young adult stories.

“I’ve got news for you, Aves. When a guy says he wants to take you out in the name of science, he’s totally full of it. He really just wants to take you out.”
“But you’ve taken me out like a million times for the experiment. You kissed me once in the name of science.”
“Exactly.”

The story is told from the alternating first person perspective of both Avery and Grayson. While I’ve seen this technique applied with varying degrees of success in the past, I’m happy to report that Oram uses it to good effect. There have been many times in recent memory when I’ve longed for a glimpse into the perspective of the male lead in order to better understand him and being able to hear Grayson’s thoughts and feelings on certain situations helped me to understand and warm up to him. I never had any difficulty differentiating between the two – Grayson and Avery were distinct characters with very different, and easily identifiable, perspectives.

“You’re a popular. A beautiful people. A jock. No offense, but that’s very bad for our reputation. Why do you think we were so happy to keep your presence in our club secret?”

I also loved the assorted, secondary characters that populated the novel. While none are examined in any great depth, I appreciated that Pam and Chloe, despite being both popular and beautiful, are not automatically portrayed as cruel or untrustworthy. I also enjoyed Oram’s portrayal of the science club and its members, who also subvert expectations. Unashamed of who they are, the science club members revel in their intelligence and do not feel intimidated by Grayson simply because he is more popular and handsome.

“Definitely a cat in a past life,” Owen muttered next to me. “But, like, a big scary one that ate people.”
Libby eyed Owen critically for a moment with a raised eyebrow. “And I’m guessing you were probably Adonis…or a golden delicious apple because you are positively yummy.”

Most of all, however, I adored Libby, Avery’s best friend. Brash, outspoken and sexually liberated, Libby is unapologetic about who she is and unafraid of what others might think of her. Famous for her rather eccentric fashion choices, like her much-maligned cat sweaters, Libby embraces her monicker as a ‘nerd’ and is a steadfast friend in Avery’s corner. I desperately wish we could have learned more about her over the course of the novel. Libby stole every scene she appeared in, and I for one would love to read a novel entirely from her perspective, particularly if it revolved around the rather unconventional and unexpected relationship that blossoms between Libby and Owen.

“Yes, Avery, I hereby demand as a completely impartial outside observer with absolutely no personal interest in the outcome of this experiment that you need to kiss me again. Right now. For purely scientific purposes, of course.”

Reminiscent of the teen romantic comedies that reigned supreme in the ’90’s like She’s All That, 10 Things I Hate About You and Drive Me Crazy, The Avery Shaw Experiment is a story about the ties that bind us as children and finding love in the unlikeliest of places. It’s really a shame they don’t make movies like that anymore, as with a little further editing and fleshing out, I could easily see this novel acting as the core concept for a similar sort of film marketed for the teen set. A light-hearted, sunny story about one girl’s quest to find a scientific cure for a broken heart, The Avery Shaw Experiment would be the perfect book to bring to the beach or to enjoy outside on a warm summer day. While a little predictable and cliché, this easy-to-read story held my attention and could act as a great respite between more serious fare. I read this novel in a matter of hours one afternoon in the hospital while my mom was undergoing surgery, and it was a welcome distraction. It kept me entertained and preoccupied, and I even found myself smiling once or twice at some of Grayson and Avery’s antics. Currently retailing on Amazon.com for the low and affordable price of $3.03, it’s a veritable steal and the perfect choice if you’re looking for a quick pick-me-up.

Overall Rating

Around The Web

Still not sure this is the right book for you? Why not listen to what some other bloggers had to say about it?

● Jessica @ Confessions of a Bookaholic wrote “If you are looking for a cute story with a fantastic male swoon-worthy character, pick this one up! I hope Kelly writes more of these stories because it was one of my favorite books from this year! “ (Read the rest of the review Here!)

● Jenna @ Coffee, Books and Me wrote “The Avery Shaw Experiment is a very entertaining, fun, heartbreaking and hilariously well made book!” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

● Erin @ YA Book Crush wrote “Kelly Oram’s The Avery Shaw Experiment is a funny and sweet teenage romance that mixes popular kids and nerds to great effect. Featuring two lovable leads, entertaining and (mostly) nice supporting characters, plus a bit of gravity late in the story to keep things from being too sugary, The Avery Shaw Experiment is a perfect easy-breezy read for summer or whenever you need a quick pick-me-up. “ (Read the rest of the review Here!)

6 responses to “Review: The Avery Shaw Experiment by Kelly Oram”

  1. So I was reading and going with the flow, then everything came to a grinding halt when I got to their birth year. 1997?! My youngest sister was born in 98 & she’ll be driving next year and I know this, I understand it, but it just feels so…wrong. Kids born in the late 90s are still itty bitty babies in my mind.

    I’m not too happy there’s a makeover, but overall this book sounds really cute and – more importantly – fun! Your review definitely piqued my interest. 🙂 This book sounds like a great afternoon read while sitting by the pool.
    Leah @ The Pretty Good Gatsby recently posted…Starry Nights-inspired Staycation: Pittsburgh’s Museums!My Profile

    • I know, right? I honestly did a double take when I first read their birth dates as it simply didn’t sound right! It’s hard to believe that children born in the late ’90’s now constitute teenagers, eh? 😯

      I wasn’t the biggest fan of the idea behind Avery’s ‘makeover’ either, but thankfully it played a very minor role in the overall story. Because it reminded me so much of the teen films I used to love in the ’80’s and ’90’s, I think I also might have been a little more forgiving when it came to those sort of familiar tropes 😉 This novel made me oddly nostalgic.
      Jen @ Pop! Goes The Reader recently posted…Review: The Avery Shaw Experiment by Kelly OramMy Profile

  2. hahaha Yeah when I see characters born in the 90’s I weep a little on the inside. You never feel older than at that moment. It sounds like Avery wasn’t the easiest character to like but I am happy that you were able to enjoy this one overall. I read Oram’s V is For Virgin a while back and enjoyed it quite a bit more than I had expected to!
    Jenni @ Alluring Reads recently posted…OCD Love Story ReviewMy Profile

  3. I read a book with a heroine born in the late 90s and I flipped out. How is that even possible? Then I did the math and it IS possible. O_O

    This sounds pretty cute, and I think I’ll add it to my list, since I do love those teen comedies, and fluffy books can be a lot of fun. 🙂 Plus, you mentioned great secondary characters, and that’s one of my favorite things. There’s more than just the main couple, authors!
    Christina (A Reader of Fictions) recently posted…On My New Arrivals Shelf (64)My Profile

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