Monday, June 4, 2012


"This is the best example of cross-gender writing I've ever read. It must be read simply for that."
— Cristina,
New York, NY

Justin Ordoñez's debut novel, Sykosa Part 1: Junior Year, disproves the old saw that youth is wasted on the young. He adroitly delves into the minds and social lives of his titular sixteen-year-old protagonist and her peers, showing that young people wrestle with tough decisions just like adults do. While Sykosa does not think of her youth as wasted, she struggles to make sense of her past and present, who she is and who she wants to be, and how much she controls her own destiny.

Asian-Americans in a mostly Caucasian area of Washington, childhood friends Sykosa and Niko have always stuck together. Now, they enjoy status in an elite high school clique, the Queens. Lately, though, Sykosa notices that Niko has changed, and she wonders what to do about it. Meanwhile, Niko will stop at nothing to achieve her goals, even as her ideas of what she desires are mutable. Sykosa has an emotionally charged rapport with her parents, who want her to be class valedictorian. Additionally, her testosterone-fueled Caucasian boyfriend, Tom, finds himself torn between wanting to respect Sykosa's wishes and figuring out how he can get her to agree to have sex with him.

Ordoñez expertly captures the inner worlds of both genders with ease. Questions such as What should I wear to look sexy? and Is she still my friend? vie for prominence in his characters' minds with Oh, my God, I'm so horny, and How do I get her to notice me? He accurately depicts their moment-to-moment vacillations between confidence and uncertainty. The major and minor players represent complex human beings with intricate motivations. Ordoñez also pinpoints the essence of "mean girls" with his insightful treatment of how Niko's fair-weather friendship affects Sykosa. The protagonist's Japanese-American heritage inflects her interactions with her parents and produces some racist remarks from her Caucasian peers.

While the author's frank treatment of under-age drinking, sexual activities, viewing of pornography, and swearing may offend some readers, these elements are included for realism, not shock value. Sykosa will appeal to girls sixteen and up who appreciate stories in which characters deal with everyday dramas.

Despite its juicy plot, the novel's narrative structure can be confusing. The author shifts viewpoints between the characters and an omniscient narrator without warning.

Additionally, Sykosa's thoughts are always italicized, while others' inner dialogue is not. Readers who take the time to get used to Sykosa's narrative quirks will be rewarded with a spot-on portrayal of adolescence.

****  stars

— Jill Allen
Clarion ForeWord Review

I start reading Sykosa, and at first, I just think its this nice little book about this nice little Japanese-American girl sitting in class at this nice little school thinking about painting her fingernails. Seriously - that is how the book starts. And, then... And then author Justin Ordonez, starts dropping subtle hints that something is wrong. Something happened to Sykosa - but, what? This book really snuck up on me. Because during the time that I was reading it, I would find myself thinking about it when I was driving or doing other things. I would be mulling it over, trying to put the pieces together.

Puzzle Piece 1 (from page 11): " Last year. It's hard to discuss, and like a lot of things that're hard to discuss, it's pretty much the root of every issue in her life."

Puzzle Piece 2 (from page 20): "...she thinks of all the scars that are on his right hand..."

Puzzle Piece 3 (from page 21): "...last year, she overheard a girl named Donna Harly crying about rape."

Ordonez masterfully drops just the right number of clues - enough to keep you hooked - but, not enough to let you figure out the mystery of what happened to Sykosa too soon! Meanwhile, he is also spinning a good coming-of-age story about a girl and her friends. Sex and drugs and family relationships are explored and explained in, what I think, is a really realistic manner. (However, this is NOT a book for minors.)

I liked this book! Once I got into it, it had depth and complicated characters, and that mysterious thread running through it.... What happened to Sykosa?!

— Libby Rodriguez
Libby's Book Blog

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