52 in 52: Don’t Even Think About It, by Sarah Mlynowski

[This review is based on an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) digital edition published by Delacourt Press in 2014, and provided by NetGalley.]

Here’s the deal:
Don’t Even Think About It is the story of a high school class who receives the unexpected side effect of telepathy with a school-administered flu shot. All but two of the students in this homeroom receive their flu vaccinations — the two who don’t are Adam, who is constantly afflicted with ear infections, and Renee, a conspiracy theorist who believes that getting a flu shot is a means of submitting to the government — and one by one, they develop telepathic abilities. The group finds itself overwhelmed with the information pouring out of their classmates’ minds as they try to navigate life with ESP. We go along for the ride as they experience heartbreak, deception, romance, and yet more heartbreak together. When one of the group informs a CIA agent of their condition, an antidote is presented along with a large sum of money to each student to settle with the vaccine manufacturer. Will they take the money and return to their normal lives, or will they fight to hold on to their newfound abilities?

My thoughts:
Don’t Even Think About It reminded me so much of the high school hierarchy: the popular “pretty” couple, the quiet ones, the nerds, the jocks, the pervs, and so on, and I felt like I was in class with these kids. Sarah Mlynowski comes right out at the start of the book that these kids are rich, but not really rich (because those kids go to private school, whereas this group attends an affluent public school called Bloomberg High). After reading that, I was concerned about the story itself because I personally can’t relate to a bunch of affluent teenagers, but I pushed on anyway…and I’m happy that I did.

The whole plot seems to revolve around Cooper and his girlfriend Mackenzie; she cheated on him with a boy from another school, and keeping her secret becomes impossible when virtually her entire class, Cooper included, can read her mind. Over the course of the book, the pair experiences a roller coaster of emotions as Mackenzie’s indiscretion takes its toll on their relationship. Frankly, I found Mackenzie rather annoying and found myself cheering for Cooper. He seemed really genuine and sweet (instead of your archetypal stuck-up popular kid), and I was very happy with how his story ended. At the same time, while I didn’t really like Mackenzie, her story is kind of left hanging — she’s left walking alone in Battery Park — and I was a little worried about why she didn’t show up with the rest of her classmates for the antidote.

I think of all the students in the class, I liked Olivia (the quiet one) and Tess (Mackenzie’s slightly-overweight — or not — best friend) the most. These two learned things about themselves that they probably wouldn’t have without ESP: Olivia discovered her confidence and became much more outspoken (because, when all your classmates can read your mind, your thoughts are speaking for your mouth anyway), channeling that into standing up for herself and her classmates; Tess, meanwhile, figured out that her non-ESP best friend Teddy (on whom she has a crush) has a crush of his own on one of their telepathic classmates and, instead of waiting around for him to get over the other girl, decides that she’d rather be someone’s first choice and finds love in a surprising person.

The device on which the entire plot is built is obviously somewhat unbelievable — gaining telepathic abilities and, eventually, purple eyes as a result of a standard-issue flu shot — but it made for a fun story. My main concern coming away from the novel was that young people could read this and refuse a potentially lifesaving immunization due to these fictional side effects. At the same time, there could be others who read this and jump on a vaccination with the false hope of developing ESP. Another concern was about parents who might read this or hear about it from their kids and refuse them a shot because the story refers to the batch this fictional class received as contaminated. What’s important is that Don’t Even Think About It is enjoyed for exactly what it is: a work of fiction. As long as you bear that in mind while reading, it’s a fun, if also almost completely irrational, story!

So would I recommend this book?
This is so completely a YA novel; it’s written about high school students, for high school students. That being said, anyone could read this book with a sense of nostalgia for their own high school years, and that’s how I looked at it. If nothing else, it’s fun, entertaining escapism. Give it a read!

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