This contemporary Christian mystery in the "Charmed Life" series by Jenny B. Jones is published by Thomas Nelson Publishers and is written for teens ages 13 to 18. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Bella Kirkwood isn't thrilled about her mother's remarriage to Jacob Finley, especially because it means she has to leave behind her glamorous life in New York City and move to a farm in Truman, Okla. Between dealing with her two annoying stepbrothers and adjusting to a new school, Bella is convinced that life couldn't get worse. Then, her classmates discover her blog — and the horrible things she has written about Truman High. In an instant, her reputation is ruined. Determined to prove she isn't the spoiled brat everyone thinks she is, she joins the school newspaper where she meets Luke Sullivan, the attractive but cynical editor. While completing her first assignment — an investigative piece about school trash — Bella overhears some football players referring to a group called The Brotherhood. With the help of Brotherhood member Jared Campbell, Bella seeks information about their fraternity and secret parties. Along the way, she discovers that the football team has lost two of their most valuable players to dangerous initiation ceremonies. Zachary Epps, a star player, lies in a coma after a horrible car accident. Carson Penturf is assumed to have committed suicide. Bella intends to unveil the truth. After she witnesses a horrible initiation ceremony involving her friend Matt Sparks, a house fire threatens the lives of herself and her younger brother, Robbie. Later, Jared betrays her with false promises of more information and takes her to an empty lake house. Desperate to keep the truth hidden, he points a loaded gun at her and forces her to overdose on prescription pills. Luke finds Bella unconscious with a bullet in her shoulder. Bella recovers from her injuries, and through the publication of her story, the suspects are brought to justice.
Bella claims to be a Christian; she does admit several times that her relationship with Christ has waned significantly. This distance is obvious in her choices. She attends parties and dance clubs and frequently mouths off to her friends and family members. To her credit, Bella does attend church and a few meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at her school. She also prays regularly, but most often in moments of personal crisis. Bella's mother and Jacob reveal that they prayed for quite a while about their relationship before making the decision to get married. Also, they try to instill godly behaviors in their kids, but their frequent absences due to work schedules make it difficult.
Bella's parents have gone through a bitter divorce. She is uprooted and forced to settle in Oklahoma with her stepfather's family. Bella's mother takes a job as a waitress at Sugar's Diner and spends less time at home with her daughter. Jacob, her stepfather, is employed as a factory worker but keeps his after-hours career as a wrestler a secret from his family. After Bella discovers who he really is, Bella has a hard time respecting Jacob. Bella's workaholic parents do make the occasional effort to discipline ungodly behavior. For example, Jacob intervenes when an argument between Bella and her stepbrother Budge gets out of control, and Bella's mother grounds her when she stays out past curfew. Back in New York, her father, Kevin Kirkwood, is a plastic surgeon and television personality. During his daughter's brief visits, he proves to be an inattentive father, preferring to give his daughter free rein of his credit card rather than his time. Bella makes it clear that she craves her father's attention, but he fails to acknowledge her plea. On the school front, the football coaches, especially Coach Dallas, treat the players with disrespect. In fact, Coach Dallas is later revealed to be the driving force behind the initiation ceremony that claims the life of one player and destroys the life of another.
Buddha is mentioned, but only as a decoration for a restaurant specializing in Eastern cuisine.
No vulgar profanity is present, but language that belittles others is used frequently, such as mutants, idiot, dork, jerk, loser and brat. Sexually demeaning terms, such as skank, perv and boob, also appear in the novel. The phrase oh my gosh appears as a mild substitute for taking the Lord's name in vain. There are several arguments between Bella and Luke (school paper editor) and Bella and Budge (stepbrother), and they engage in unkind verbal banter. Other offensive terms include words such as turds and crap.
When it comes to graphic violence, there are three particularly frightening scenes. In the first, Bella stumbles on an initiation ceremony involving The Brotherhood and her friend Matt Sparks. Two of the group's leaders, Dante and Adam, have tied one end of a bungee cord to Matt's ankles and the other to the train trestle. Matt plays chicken with the oncoming train before leaping off the bridge at the last moment. In a later scene, Bella is at home watching her youngest stepbrother, Robbie, when the house goes up in flames. Bella carries Robbie out an upstairs window and into the branches of a tree. After she loses her balance, the two of them fall to the ground but live. Last, in the book's final conflict, Jared takes Bella to a vacant lake cabin and confronts her about her investigation. She realizes that he was responsible for the fire and was also involved with Carson's death and Zachary's life-threatening accident. In a desperate effort to keep the truth concealed, he aims a loaded handgun at her, forces her to overdose on a cocktail of pills from the medicine cabinet and makes her write a suicide letter that he intends to place beside her dead body. When she protests, he slaps her across the face. Fortunately, Luke arrives to help her, but not before Bella sustains a gunshot wound to the shoulder and falls into drug-induced unconsciousness.
At the start of the book, Bella refers to one of her father's previous girlfriends as a stripper. In one instance, she describes her boyfriend, Hunter, as her "tower of studliness." After several weeks apart, she and Hunter meet up in a New York club and share a long kiss. Later, after Bella discovers Jacob's secret passion for wrestling, she tells her mother that she found him "with his legs wrapped around another man." She makes frequent remarks about men in tight pants — football players and Jacob's wrestling buddies. She also imagines The Brotherhood as guys in tight pants who slap each other on the backside. Bella tells Jared that she has no intention of entering a relationship with him and doesn't want to "get horizontal on the couch" with him. Bella later encounters Jared wearing nothing but a towel. When caught snooping, Luke and Bella hide their faces by engaging in a deep and lengthy kiss in his car. In a trip back home to New York, Bella catches Hunter cheating on her and making out with her friend Mia. Also, Bella's friend Lindy mentions that a contestant in the Miss Truman pageant of 2007 was a transvestite.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
Note:So Not Happening includes several scenes at parties and clubs where alcohol flows freely. Coach Dallas wears a tattoo on his upper arm.
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