The simple but entertaining story is this: Charlotte “Charlie” Healey wants to make some “cool, interesting, non-evil, non-vindictive friends,” so she arranges to attend a different high school from all her middle school friends. And right from the start, things go pretty well at Harmony Falls High. She makes a new friend, Sydney, and reunites with her old friend and neighbor Will, who conveniently happens to be a buddy of Charlie’s instant crush, Tyler.
Of course, no one’s freshman year is that easy, and the very title of the book makes us anxious for what kind of hazardous materials are coming Charlie’s way. Unfortunately, Wiseman seems to have taken her mission — to show all the different ways in which boys and girls are mean to each other — a bit too literally. Soon enough, everyone’s wrapped up in some kind of bullying behavior.
First, Charlie fesses up to her past: In middle school, she stood by as her old friends launched a vicious campaign against Charlie’s friend Nidhi, who just happens to have transferred to Harmony too. Then Tyler starts publicly humiliating Sydney when she rejects him as a homecoming date. Sydney does the same in return. At the same time, Tyler and Will endure endless hazing to get on the lacrosse team — and the consequences are serious. There’s even the intimation of school administrators, teachers and parents bullying each other for the sake of their children. It’s all a little too much for the slight framework of this one book.
But Wiseman’s breezy prose and the witty banter between Charlie and her friends camouflage the story’s flaws pretty well. It’s not soap operatic or preachy, and Charlie’s persistent honesty is refreshing. I’m not sure “Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials” is going to prevent tragedies like what happened to Phoebe Prince in Massachusetts earlier this year. But watching Charlie and her friends work out their complex relationships might make it seem more possible to do the right thing.
Have you read “Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials”? Let us know what you think!