Book Review: ‘10 Things We Did (and probably shouldn’t have)’ inserts realistic consequences into unlikely plot

I was hooked after seeing the title, “10 Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have),” by highly-acclaimed author Sarah Mlynowski, because I knew it would be a young adult book about teens getting into trouble.

Once you get over the highly improbable premise that sets the plot into motion – and most teens probably wouldn’t notice that detail or they would think they could pull it off – it really is a fun, quick read.

The book opens with April, a 16-year-old girl who lives with her father and stepmother after her parents divorced and her mother and brother moved to France. I thought the situation of a teen being in the middle of two divorced parents – neither of whom seem to want her around – was relatable for teens. April flips out when her father says they’re moving from her hometown, where she’s lived all her life, to Cleveland, Ohio, where he’s accepted a new job. She doesn’t want to move and have her life uprooted half-way through her junior year of high school. She’s angry and doesn’t want to leave her friends and her long-time boyfriend, Noah.

So she hatches a plan that begins the title of “10 Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have)” – No. 1: Lied to Our Parents. April and her friend Vi concoct the aforementioned highly unlikely premise that her father somehow agrees to (I’d have to believe that Mlynowski had April living with her father to make this seem somewhat plausible because a mom would sniff out the lie immediately) and lets April live with her friend Vi for the rest of the school year.

The snag in the plan is that Vi’s mother is a free-spirited theatre actress who landed a role in a play and has moved herself to Chicago for the time being, leaving Vi living alone. April and Vi set up fake email addresses for both parents so they can “communicate” and check in regularly. So now we have two teen girls living alone, unsupervised in a house. April’s father, obviously feeling guilty, gives April a lot of money each month for rent, food and other expenses.

I think the adults can see where this is headed.

Soon, April and Vi start making poor choices and skip school, stay up late with friends on school nights, throw parties, take in a kitten and buy a hot tub. Yes, that was No.s 3 and 4: Skipped School and Bought a Hot Tub. April also knows that now the she has some privacy, she and her boyfriend can finally lose their virginity (No. 5).

Of course, problems arise: the kitten gets hit by a car and needs emergency surgery (No. 6: Spent $3,000 on a Donut), the girls had a party that got out of hand (No. 8: Threw a Crazy Party and No. 9: Hosted the Mr. Teen Universe Contest), and it’s getting harder and harder to keep up the lies and secrets to April’s parents.

But amidst all the teen drama, there are very believable plot lines. April has to learn how to do her own laundry, learns what happens when you put the wrong soap in the dishwasher and how to grocery shop on a budget, because she always seemed to spend her father’s money as soon as she had it.

The girls are still in high school and April was a straight-A student who is trying to get into a good college so she also has the added pressure of keeping up her grades without parental support and guidance. Mlynowski did a great job of accentuating all of the stressful situations young adults have to go through without overemphasizing how living along is a big responsibility and not always fun and games.

I also think Mlynowski realistically dealt with the topic of teen sex – April and her boyfriend talk about if they are ready, and then where they will perform the act, precautions that need to be taken in advance, etc. April and Vi get on birth control pills and Noah uses condoms as a back-up because teen pregnancy is a reality in their world. I also think this is the first YA novel I’ve read that deals with an STD and the issues that arise from unprotected sex. I applaud Mlynowski for broaching that topic in a believable way.

The writing is well-done and fast-paced, so I actually felt like I was a teenager again and dealing with the “drama” all over again. The effects divorce can have in dividing a family also was an interesting subplot.

I enjoyed watching April grow into an adult as she knew she was doing things she “probably shouldn’t have” and saw the negative consequences from those actions. In the end, she fesses up after her father offers to get her an apartment to finish out her senior year – that’s the final chapter, What I Did (and probably should have done earlier).

The ending was a bit disappointing and anti-climactic, but I would have been angry if April got away with everything and never told the truth. I also was glad she realized she needed to take the first step to repair her relationship with her mother. All in all, this was a great book for those who like YA novels.

I liked Mlynowski’s writing style and I plan to read her popular “Magic in Manhattan” series next.