Pepper's gearing up for what she hopes will be her best cross country season, even if it also happens to be just another year that she's hopelessly crushing on her best friend. She's not at the bottom of the school hierarchy, but she knows she's not the kind of girl to get a guy like Jace, so she'll settle on staying his friend. But the new guy, an avid runner like her, isn't hard on the eyes, either, and he's showing some interest. Running may be her life, but it's time she got what her heart wants as well.
The Verdict: So far, this is a three-book series, though a fourth is currently in the works. And so far, it's pretty awesome.
Pepper is your average high school student in every way except athletics, where she excels in cross country and performs well in track. She lives with her grandmother (who is all kinds of cool!) and practically grew up with her best friend Jace. But Jace is the hottest thing in school, quarterback of the football team, and seems to exist in a whole different dimension from Pepper. They're definitely close, but he looks at her like family, and she… Well, she looks at him pretty much like every other girl in school does — with stars in her eyes.
Jace has some issues, though, or at least that's what it looks like. Aside from being too cocky, a bit of a fighter, and always hopping from bed to bed, it seems that there's a lot about him that Pepper doesn't know. He parties constantly, seems to have collected some shady friends, and keeps quite a bit of himself away from Pepper in the form of vague answers.
Ryan is the new guy, dedicated to cross country like Pepper is, and not bad to look at, either. He's considerate, mature for his age, and most definitely interested in Pepper. I have to admit that I was torn between wanting Pepper to give up on Jace and choose nice guy Ryan, and wanting her to throw Ryan aside and nab Jace. The triangle was nice, though, playing out well and again pretty true to real life.
At its heart, Pepped Up is a romance standard, the story of the less popular girl pining over the incredibly popular and good-looking best friend. But it's also the story of a girl growing up, facing some challenges, and pushing herself as a somewhat elite athlete. It's hard to say what's so great about it, since it's just one of those intangible things you discover when reading it. The writing is practically perfect, and the storytelling is spot on for the life of a teenager.
Much of their school life is oddly absent, as the story focuses on Pepper's cross country training and competing, and the outside-of-school antics of her and her social circle. There's the stereotypical mean girl, of course, but I don't think that's necessarily a negative. Anyone who's ever been to high school knows there are always a handful of girls who think and act like they are better than all the rest, so while it may be a cliche, it's certainly founded in reality.
I'm a huge fan of YA, but often I find that the characters either act like brainless brats or like they've got the wisdom of a 50-year-old, so when I find a story like Pepped Up, it really stands out. Pepper is mature, but not too much so for her age, and while she's certainly a bit obsessed with Jace, she's also incredibly dedicated to running. I thought that part would be terribly boring, especially as her runs and competitions were explained in such detail, but since it didn't bore a couch potato like me, that's saying something. Then again, my brother made State in cross country, so perhaps I'm a little biased… even if I do think anything that requires that much movement is a form of torture. But without a doubt, Pepped Up is a must-read for YA romance fans, and I can't wait to read the rest of the series.