Book Review: ‘Sway’ by Kat Spears


In Kat Spears’s hilarious and often poignant debut, high school senior Jesse Alderman, or “Sway,” as he’s known, could sell hell to a bishop. He also specializes in getting things people want—term papers, a date with the prom queen, fake IDs. He has few close friends and he never EVER lets emotions get in the way. For Jesse, life is simply a series of business transactions.

But when Ken Foster, captain of the football team, leading candidate for homecoming king, and all-around jerk, hires Jesse to help him win the heart of the angelic Bridget Smalley, Jesse finds himself feeling all sorts of things. While following Bridget and learning the intimate details of her life, he falls helplessly in love for the very first time. He also finds himself in an accidental friendship with Bridget’s belligerent and self-pitying younger brother who has cerebral palsy. Suddenly, Jesse is visiting old folks at a nursing home in order to run into Bridget, and offering his time to help the less fortunate, all the while developing a bond with this young man who idolizes him. Could the tin man really have a heart after all?

A Cyrano de Bergerac story with a modern twist, Sway is told from Jesse’s point of view with unapologetic truth and biting humor, his observations about the world around him untempered by empathy or compassion—until Bridget’s presence in his life forces him to confront his quiet devastation over a life-changing event a year earlier and maybe, just maybe, feel something again.

Warning: Book contains light profanity and this review contains spoilers. 

As I was searching for a new book to read, Sway by Kay Spears caught my attention. The cover presented two teenagers cast in silhouettes. With their identities hidden, it was up to the reader’s imagination to create a picture as to how they looked. The silhouettes presented an air of mystery, and the synopsis further lured me into reading the book.

I have not read a story in a while that was written in a first person narrative, let alone a story told through a male’s point of view, thus providing a fresh outlook. Jesse, who runs a risky business, comes from a dark past; one that we learn about throughout the book. He also typically goes by the name Sway, the nickname his cliental call him by, and it’s formfitting due to the type of business he runs. The nickname acts as a sort of mask to his identity, one he feels more comfortable in. Hiding behind lies is what he does best.

From everyone trying to ask Jesse for help, lies easily start to build up. From parties asking for kegs to him making rounds giving out drugs, the book is enveloped in a somewhat dark tone. There are too many lies to deal with that even Jesse has a hard time covering up his tracks. Thus, the high school dynamic in this novel is raw, edgy, and different from other YA novels.


But when he sees a pretty girl, does it all change? From the first time he sees Bridget, he cannot stop thinking about her. But remembering that he should keep people at arm’s length, falling in love with her is not an option. What I do like about Jesse is that he does not fall in love with only Bridget’s looks, but also the way she cares about people and is saint-like, traits that Jesse’s afraid to show. She’s able to care about everyone effortlessly and Jesse is afraid to let people in.

Later, we find out that she likes him, too. Even though she later gets together with one of the most popular jocks in the school (who of course got help from Jesse), things get a little twisted. Jesse, who basically got Bridget to fall in love with the jock, did it for a measly 200 bucks. Does money outweigh heartache? I started to feel bad for him. It is very clear that he really likes Bridget, yet he is letting his past destroy his future. Will he come to terms with himself, and will the dark hole where his heart used to be get repaired? Tons of questions filled my head as I read this book, as well as being frustrated at Jesse and hoping there would be a happy ending.

Moreover, her brother who is disabled becomes a key character in the story. The love-hate relationship that is built between Jesse and Pete is one to look at. No matter how much of a jerk Jesse is, Pete will always care, and that is a fact that Jesse has a hard time coming to terms with. Jesse is a very closed-in character, one who lost a mom, is not close to his dad, and prefers to have distant relationships with other people. Finding one’s own mother dead can permanently damage anyone, and Jesse is living proof of that. He does not like getting too close or attempting to understand his emotions. There was a disconnect between Jesse and his dad ever since he lost his mother. His mother suffered from a brain tumor and it was too late to try and fix. She also lived a messed up life and left it in a messed up way. Music is what connected his dad and he, but it is also what torn them apart. Since his dad was a flaky musician, Jesse lacked the support and guidance he needed.

As I read the story, I just wanted to yell at Jesse and tell him to finally open up to Bridget! I wanted him to tell the truth!


It is not until the homecoming dance that Bridget learns everything; from the sell out to the lies, the whole thing was laid out. Jesse could not hide from the mask anymore and make up a story. After pages and pages of agony and frustration, here comes the resolution. In the last moments of the book, he lets someone in his life: he starts to let Bridget in. She knows him in ways many people in his school did not bother to spend the time to understand. But most importantly, he learns to love himself.

Overall, I have never been so frustrated with a character in a book before until now. Sure, he was written to be this way intentionally, but I still did my best to learn to love him. Perhaps in the same way that Bridget and Pete loved him. Jesse did do a number of things that should have made any rational human being hate him for life, but in the back of my mind I knew there was a reason behind it. Jesse was very rational and methodical. He knew how to read people’s body language and thought before he spoke. He was smart and understood other people well. Even though this book is not typically a type of story I usually read, it still performed really well with me, and the characters carried the story quite nicely. The young, hip tone of the story was unlike any other, and the storytelling was done well.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press


Source: Netgalley

ISBN #: 9781250051431

Length: 320 pages


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