When Lex gets caught shoplifting at the local SmartMart, she gets roped into working there for the summer, disrupting her other plans and forcing her to wear the none-too-attractive SmartMart uniform when she should be sleeping late and hanging out with her friends. Things seem to be looking up, though, when she spots the hot, young manager, but her bad luck returns full force when she realizes he's the guy from school that all her friends hate.
The Verdict: I've read some great books directed at younger readers, lately, and I wasn't sure my luck would hold out, but Paper or Plastic stole my heart!
Lexi is living a rather typical teenage life, and like many teenagers, she's done something incredibly stupid. But instead of being carted off to jail, the store manager she stole from offers her the last summer job in the world that she wants, and her mother forces her to take it. She was really kind of snooty about working there, but remembering my own teenage retail experience, I get it. I used to dread seeing friends from school come into our store, like working was something to be embarrassed about, and Lex was no different.
The cast of characters around her was entertaining, to say the least. Her mother is obsessed with child beauty pageants and schedules her life around entering Lex's little sister in every competition that comes along. Lex's grandmother is the grandmother everyone wishes they had, except now her Alzheimer's is beginning to show, and Lex is losing the one person in her home who she feels like gets her. Then there are the store employees, from super sweet and responsible Noah to Ruthie, a girl who's antics as entertaining and exasperating, and while her condition was never spelled out, one has to assume she's got some special needs.
The conflict for Lex is Noah. He's hot, but he's a bit stiff about things, and her friends hate him. But their reasoning is actually rather justified on some level, since Noah is supposedly the one who reported them for vandalism and caused them all kinds of trouble. The grudge is old, but it's definitely there, and as Lex begins to fall for Noah, she finds herself unable to choose sides.
Noah's pretty incredible, and Lex begins to see that the more she's around him. His home life is far from great, so he works hard to provide for his mother and sister, and also to get a head start on providing a more stable life when he's out of high school. The goody two shoes that Lex thinks she sees is actually pretty accurate, but once she sees everything he's up against, it makes sense to her.
Lex was every bit as confusing and frustrating as any teenage girl, judging others, worried about them judging her, and then having to see everything in a new light when she learns the truth. But through each awkward scene and bad choice of words, she grows a little, becoming someone deserving of kind-hearted Noah and more confident in her own decisions.
If I really think about it, Paper or Plastic handles some pretty serious topics — Alzheimer's, abuse, that craziness that is the world of child pageants. But it's done in a way that meshes with the lighter parts of the story, adding to the character without overshadowing the happy, funny parts. While it's certainly a lighthearted read, there are some intense moments and emotions, and I would never classify it as fluff. But through all that, it's still the cute, sweet love story I wanted, with all the insecurity and uncertainty that is such a part of being a teen, and I would definitely recommend it to readers of all ages.