How NOT to Spend Your Senior Year

How NOT to Spend Your Senior YearI decided to give the Romantic Comedies line one last chance by reading How NOT to Spend Your Senior Year by Cameron Dokey, since she’s one of my favorite authors. While the writing was better—I appreciate Dokey’s tendency to have her narrators tell the story directly to the reader—the plot was still convoluted to the point of ridiculousness. Oh, well. It is, however, age appropriate for most older tweens, which some books in this series are not.

Jo O’Connor has been moving around her whole life, routinely changing schools multiple times during the school year—always preceded by her dad receiving a secretive phone call. Her coping mechanism is to blend in and not get attached. But with her latest move, she blows it—she develops a mutual attraction with the most popular boy in school and she starts settling in to her new house. Her dreams come true and Alex asks her to the prom. Then comes the inevitable call, but this time it’s more extreme than just moving.

Jo learns that her dad is the only witness to a murder and that his life is threatened by the murderer who will go free if her dad can’t testify. This time, just moving won’t be enough—Jo and her dad need to fake their own deaths, so they stage a “fatal” car accident. Jo wants to tell Alex about what happened, so she sneaks into her old school. However, her plan goes awry when he faints as soon as he sees her. When he wakes up, he thinks he’s seen her ghost which he, of course, tells people at the school.

In the meantime, Jo is attending a nearby high school in disguise, going by the name Claire. She decides to join the newspaper, and then there’s this thing about a journalist exchange with her old high school and of course she’s the one who has to go, and the main reporter at her new school thinks there’s something funny going on and he starts looking into her past and it just gets crazier.

The plot was truly off the rails—I’ve read enough thrillers that the whole “faking their deaths” thing didn’t really bother me too much, but the convenient journalist exchange with her old school was just a step too far for me. If it weren’t for Dokey’s amusing tone, it would have been unbearable. As it was, it was only silly.

SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid


Jo’s mom was killed by a hit-and-run when Jo was about 8 years old. Eventually we learn that this wasn’t an accident—this is the murder that Jo’s dad witnessed. The grief is long past when the book opens, but a photo of Jo’s mom is an important part of their moving ritual. The house where Jo feels comfortable turns out to be her maternal grandmother’s house, although her grandmother died before they moved in there.

Jo and her dad fake their deaths, and then Jo gets to see the aftermath of her death on her old schoolmates. It’s interesting to see—they didn’t know her well since she was only at the school for a few weeks, but they start almost idolizing her and they want her ghost to be real. She’s weirded out by this turn of events, but it does look at various ways of dealing with death.


Alex and Jo hit it off immediately and share a kiss that’s unlike anything Jo has experienced before—but Alex starts acting weird after the kiss, and then Jo has to fake her death. As a ghost—slightly removed and able to observe—Jo finally realizes that Alex is in love with their mutual friend Elaine, and Elaine is in love with him. (Elaine is Jo’s best friend and she actually knows that Jo isn’t really dead.) Jo’s ghost stands between them getting together, so Jo decides that she needs to do something to bring them together, leading to a complicated plan at the prom.

In the meantime, Jo realizes that the nosy star reporter from her new school’s newspaper isn’t actually as annoying as he seems, and she, too, finds love in the end.

There’s a little kissing, but that’s about it. There’s a sense that you can just know when something is right, similar to many romantic comedies.


There’s the whole “pretending to be dead while still lurking around” secret, of course. That one is kind of crucial to the plot and you just have to go with it. And Jo’s dad was keeping secrets all along, although I can see why the “We’re on the run because I saw the man who ran over your mother and it totally wasn’t an accident” thing might be hard to explain to an 8 year old, and then when exactly is a good time to bring that up?

But Jo hides things from her dad and from the detective who’s trying to keep them alive—things she knows they wouldn’t like because it could endanger their cover, thus threatening her and her dad’s lives. In the end it all turns out ok, but it bothered me that she wasn’t more careful. It’s like she doesn’t really grasp the seriousness of the situation, and that didn’t seem in keeping with the character.

Appreciated Geekiness

There are a lot of Superman references around the whole newspaper thing. There’s also an oblique X-Men reference. In addition, there’s an extended discussion of copyediting that I really appreciated.


Not much, really, except for several references to how teenage girls can always hear phones and are never without phones.


At one point she says it “rained like hell.” Other than that, I don’t think there’s even any name calling.


If you’re going to read a book from the Romantic Comedies line, read this one. It’s a creative, if ridiculous, plot. The tone is fun and the writing is pretty good. It’s totally appropriate for mature 10 year olds and up.

But I’d rather go read another one of Cameron Dokey’s fairytale retellings.

There must be decent modern romantic stories out there appropriate for older tweens. Anyone have any suggestions?


How NOT to Spend Your Senior Year by Cameron Dokey
Published in 2012 by Simon Pulse
Part of the Romantic Comedies line
Borrowed from BooksFree



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