________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 39. . . .June 10, 2016


How It Ends.

Catherine Lo.
Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2016.
293 pp., hardcover, $24.99.
ISBN 978-0-544-54006-4.

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Callie Martin.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


I hugged the comic to my chest and wished I could go back and do everything differently. I wasted so much time trying to impress people who hated me that I never gave a second glance to someone who actually liked me.


As any teenaged girl will tell you, navigating the social waters of high school is no easy task. From hierarchical cliques to finding out your best friend is now dating the boy you have a crush on (not to mention the many hormonal and physical changes your body goes through), it is a rough ride that few make it out of unscathed. This is exactly the theme of Catherine Lo’s novel, How It Ends, which focuses on two teenaged friends, Annie and Jessie, and how their relationship changes throughout the course of a school year.

     Do not be fooled into thinking this is “Mean Girls: The Book”. Though the archetypal “popular girls” do exist, the story’s focus is on the friendship between two “outcasts”, one of whom is suddenly recruited into the popular clique to the chagrin of the other. The novel rotates between Annie and Jessie’s perspectives, which is a really nice touch by Lo to make sure readers can understand where each of the girls is coming from in various scenarios. No matter if a teenager reader is a rebel like Annie or a “goodie-goodie” like Jessie, it is very difficult for the reader not to be able to relate to at least one of them.

     Lo should also be applauded for taking on the themes that many high-school-set novels try to avoid. From excessive cussing to sex, Lo is unapologetic for the actions of her heroines, which is an incredibly realistic (and refreshing) treatment. These girls are not paper-cutouts of what adults imagine (or even wish) their teenagers to be, but rather realistic protagonists that could be found in any high school in North America. Lo also does not shy away from discussing sex, as well as its consequences, but that is where the novel struggles.

     After engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse, one of the protagonists quickly finds herself pregnant. While the novel treats the situation with respect (especially as the character considers her choices, feeling pressure to make the “correct” one), it is difficult to not take away a very strong “pro-life” message. Though neither a good nor bad concept, it should be something parents of younger readers are aware of.

     Lo does a good job of detailing the character’s inner thoughts towards her situation, though the option of abortion is blatantly referred to as “killing the baby” and “destroying a life when that was the most precious thing of all”. Though it could be considered a valid view point, it might not rest well with readers who label themselves as “pro-choice”. However, teenaged pregnancy is a rather daunting issue to be raised in any setting, and Lo should be praised for attempting to tackle it. She shows teenagers the results of unprotected sex and warns against engaging in sexual activity before speaking to their partner(s) about birth control, which is something many teen readers should be aware of.

     High school is a treacherous time for any teenager, but Lo does a great job of making it relatable while, at the same time, teaching life lessons to impressionable readers. Though a younger audience might shy away, teenagers will no doubt be able to relate to the confidence in Lo’s writing and the message that, even in dire circumstances, a good friend is never far away.


Callie Martin holds a Bachelor Degree in English and will begin studying for her Master’s in Cinema and Media Studies in the fall of 2016.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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