Korean-American Albert Kim blames his parents moving him twice in his formative years for his dismal social status. Instead of playing the fitting in game at Bern High, Albert spends his sophomore year intentionally being a loser. So when he has a summer “something” with the school’s reining sweetheart Mia, former half of a power couple, Albert thinks junior year is looking up. But then Mia’s jerk of an ex, Ryan, gets cancer and Al just can’t compete. Is their “something” doomed?
Albert tells us in the prologue that his love story ends badly, admits that he’s done some things wrong, and asks us to try to see the whole picture and try to understand who he is. It’s like an advance apology for the fact that he is about to go off on a lot of detailed (and often tedious) tangents during the following 370 pages. Albert is an unusual narrator – we don’t often get this much insight to the mind of a severe outcast – and he tries his best to put himself in the best possible light because “what is a story, really, but a narrator’s defense?” (p. 4)
So what does a girl like Mia see in a guy like Albert? No one can figure it out, not even Albert. In the microcosm of the summer hotel job, after one of the most painfully funny meeting scenes I think I’ve ever read, they are sweet together. But you know, both instinctually, and because you’re told on the first page, that their kind of “something” can’t last – Albert is just too much of a weirdo to ever successfully maneuver all the intricacies of the high school social scene (integral to the survival of any budding high school relationship). It’s funny – because of the title (a riff on the Smith’s song Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before I’d wager) – I kept thinking about the lyrics of the song whenever Albert (with increasing hysteria and dread) would ask Mia about their relationship status every couple of days:
Nothing's changed I still love you, oh, I still love you ...Only slightly, only slightly less than I used to, my love
In another nod to the song, Ryan has his spleen removed. Good times.
Anyway, the highlight of the novel is the voice. Albert is just so delightfully dorky and immature but so observant and intelligent at the same time. His outsider insights on the ridiculousness of high school were spot-on. Many passages made me laugh out loud – especially the pep rally scene and the town’s overreaction to Ryan’s cancer.
But yeah, I’d say this is at least 100 pages overlong and often veers into outright parody (something like Tom Perrotta’s ELECTION). Still, it’s a nice slice of life love story from a perspective we don’t often see and that alone makes this worthy of a larger audience. Will this one beat ALIVE AND WELL IN PRAGUE, NEW YORK in the Nerds Heart YA tournament? Stay tuned!