I knew almost nothing about the book when I began If I Tell. That’s a good situation to go into the book with, because it may be slim, but If I Tell covers a wide range of topics, from first love to growing up bi-racial in a small town.
Jaz is seventeen, the same age her mother was when she got pregnant. Now her mother is pregnant again. Jaz would be happy – she got along well with Simon, the first real black presence in her life. But the other night, Simon got drunk and kissed the also-drunk Lacey, Jaz’s best friend. (Not as gross as it could be: he’s 27; she’s 21.) A drunk kiss isn’t the end of the world for an adult, but for a teenager . . . well, she’s been betrayed by the two people she’s closest to and the one person she really wants to tell is particularly vulnerable at the moment.
Janet Gurtler is excellent at making Jaz seem like a real teenager. Every problem is amplified in her mind, and her issues take precedence over the issues of those around her. But that’s a problem sometimes, because real teenagers are often awful people and it’s hard to sympathize with Jaz. She tries not to hurt her mom by telling her about the kiss, but decides the best way not to tell her is to avoid her completely. (Hurtful) When Jaz finally meets someone else who is bi-racial, she’s rude and dismissive of their experience due to their passing privilege. (Sorry for the awkward third person, but I don’t want to give the identity away. It’s a pretty good surprise.)
The slow-building romance between Jaz and Jackson is my favorite part of the book. He’s a good balance for her. He’s an already reformed bad boy and thus more reflective than your average teenage boy. He knows his actions have consequences. Unfortunately, there’s so much going on in If I Tell that he drops out of the story quite often.
I like how lived-in Gurtler has made her world. But sometimes I wish she’d cut some things out. There’s an attempted date rape plot that goes nowhere and is utterly infuriating because no one calls the guy out for getting an underage girl drunk in order to have sex with her. Jaz gets mad at Nathan and makes it clear that they were never together and are certainly not going out again. She doesn’t, however, get mad at her friends who are surprised she’s not dating him.
The bullying subplot is also handled awkwardly. Gurtler creates a head mean girl who has it out for Jaz. She’s the only true human antagonist in the novel, but she only shows up for two short scenes and delivers a bit of karma to Nathan. I’m cool with nothing bad happening to her in the end, because plenty of bullies get away with it. But it feels odd to have the bullying move from general and systemic to personal and then have no further development.
I love Gurtler’s prose, which is smooth and unhurried. If I Tell is very easy to read. I enjoyed the realistic approach, but felt it was just too realistic at times. The action needed to be a little more contained and Jaz could’ve been less bratty. At the same time, Jaz’s motivations are understandable and it allows her to develop and mature. I just wish she started growing up earlier.
Jasmine Evans knows one thing for sure… people make mistakes. After all, she is one. Jaz is the result of a onenight stand between a black football player and a blonde princess. Having a young mother who didn’t raise her, a father who wants nothing to do with her and living in a small-minded town where she’s never fit in hasn’t been easy. But she’s been surviving. Until she sees her mom’s new boyfriend making out with her own best friend. When do you forgive people for being human or give up on them forever?
Read an excerpt here.