Guest Review by Shaun Young
TITLE: Surviving Elite High: The Next Generation
SERIES: Surviving Elite High
AUTHOR: John H. Ames
PUBLISHER: Ai Press
LENGTH: 177 Pages
RELEASE DATE: October 7, 2016
Surviving Elite High fans, the wait is over! More romance, drama and mystery are unfolding at Elite High before the back-to-school bell has even rung!
Seventeen year old, blond-hair, blue-eyed and adorable Robbie Carroll, orphaned at a young age and mysteriously never adopted, has finally found his dream family. Nick Hawking and John Ames, now married, wealthy, and powerful, make Robbie their son, defying the young man’s past- one that Robbie himself has no memory of- that has scared all other prospective parents away. Now, Robbie has great parents and a hot brother, Nicky and beautiful sister, Lily, who take him into their midst and make him part of their tight circle of friends who all go to Elite High.
One of those friends is Tim Mercer, a gorgeous football player at Elite High. Tim’s dark looks and simmering eyes capture Robbie’s heart at first sight. But Robbie can’t be sure that Tim feels the same way, or even if he’s gay too. Moreover, even if Tim is available, there are some people around him who don’t want Robbie to get close to him, and will go to ANY lengths to keep him away. Why? What do they want with Tim? What is the secret that Tim is harboring? And who is that strange man in Robbie’s visions, who haunts his life and his dreams? Find out here!
I usually wouldn’t jump into a series on the fourth book, but Surviving Elite High: The Next Generation is a bit unusual in that it’s billed as a standalone. It’s also YA, which is sort of ‘my genre’, so I thought I’d give it a try. I was surprised and gratified to find that the author manages the balancing act of creating a (mostly) standalone fourth installment in a series better than most, although it wasn’t enough to completely win me over.
As the name implies, The Next Generation is set twenty years after the main Surviving Elite High series. Robbie, our protagonist, is a seventeen-year-old who was orphaned under mysterious circumstances and finds himself adopted by a couple from the first series. Predictably, he ends up following in their footsteps and attending Elite High for himself, but not before dealing with his new family, their fairly enormous social circle and a new crush with some baggage.
That might sound like enough to set up a novel on its own even without anything carried over from three previous installments, but Ames does a fairly admirable job of introducing everyone (there are a lot of named characters in this) and quickly establishing their relationships to each other. I got the distinct impression in the early pages that it would have been a bonus if I recognised certain people as returning from the original trilogy, but you really don’t need to be familiar with them to appreciate who they are and how they relate to the storyline in this installment.
In that sense, The Next Generation certainly works as a combination fourth installment and standalone, for which Ames deserves credit. That can’t have been easy to pull off.
Unfortunately, having set up both a new and returning cast, the book proceeds to spin its wheels for a surprisingly long time. Robbie is introduced to his new family (Nick Hawking and John Ames of the original trilogy, plus their children), settles in fairly quickly and then goes through what feels like a lot of padding before meeting Tim, his eventual love interest, and eventually attending the titular Elite High. Yes, there is some intrigue introduced early on, but it never felt like quite enough to hang a good 20% of the book on.
In fact, the early chapters feel less like the beginning of a fourth installment in a series and more like a kind of extended coda for the original books. Nick and John certainly seem to have gotten their happy ending (for the most part – one of their kids turns out to be, shall we say, a bit of a handful) and are continuing the Elite High tradition. If you look at it in a certain light, the book starts to feel less like its own story and more like a parting gift for fans of the first three.
But their is a plot here, eventually, as Robbie attempts to work through his feelings for Tim Mercer and deals with Tim’s somewhat unstable girlfriend. A large part of the tension in the second half of the book is predicated on some fairly theatrical teenage relationship angst, some of which comes across as inauthentic. Yes, teenagers can be dramatic, but I’m not sure many of them are quite this dramatic.
In the end, despite mostly functioning as a standalone story, Surviving Elite High: The Next Generation is probably going to be of most interest to diehard fans of the first trilogy.