Always Upbeat / All That (Cheer Drama / Baller Swag) (Lockwood Lions)

Always Upbeat/All That - Stephanie Perry Moore, Derrick Moore To begin this review, let me say a couple of things about "Always Upbeat/All That" which really impressed me. I don't think I've ever encountered authors who used the format of their books to compliment the style of the storytelling that's featured in the way that Stephanie Perry Moore and Derrick Moore have done with the first installation of the "Lockwood Lions" series. What do I mean by this? Well, they've written two books in one and it's a "flip" style book. Two perspectives, two stories, some shared events. You read one story and as you finish it, you can flip the book over and get the other perspective. The tag inside the book says that there are "two sides to every story" and that proves true in this particular work for the conflict in each of the perspective characters' experiences. What an awesome concept. No doubt that's one of the aspects that pulled me into "Always Upbeat/All That."The other aspect that pulled me into this work is the fact that it introduces two teens who are coming of age and struggle within the realm of some tough issues they have to face in their lives. There aren't as many contemporary YA books that feature teens of color as leading characters, so I was glad to read this book featuring a prominent, diverse cast of characters with solid voices and identifiable tones. On the surface, things seem to be going well for them, but underneath it all, they both have to deal with some difficult blows. In "Always Upbeat," Charli is a young woman whose life seems to have everything working well for her - she has an attractive boyfriend whom she loves (Blake), a great group of supportive friends, seemingly happy family life, and she's moving on up the social ladder in her cheerleading squad. Yet, Charli's feels various strains in her relationship with Blake, especially since he keeps wanting to take their relationship to the next level and other girls seem to vie for his attention. She also has pressures associated with her new role on the squad, and she's starting to suspect that not all is well in her parents' relationship as she thinks. In "All That", Blake has to deal with the distance he feels in his relationship with Charli, as well as stresses about his role on the football team and future beyond that, and a shocking revelation that throws his home life in a tailspin. Both "Always Upbeat" and "All That" cross with respect to events that happen between and beyond the teens' lives and showcase a number of tough issues, including peer pressure, relationship strains, sexuality, terminal illness, among others. I appreciate the way that both authors approach the issues, and give voices to both teens in a way that's rational, plausible, and in places sweet and sentimental while also showing the honest voices of the teens who are faced with these challenges and how they come to terms with them.I do have a few qualms with the books, however. I couldn't help but feel, after reading both stories, there were some developmental holes and plot progressions that didn't quite go as far as they could've gone. I still liked them, but I think in the brevity of such stories, the development of the characters suffered a bit more than it probably should have.On one hand, as I mentioned, the stories are quick reads (each about 150 some pages), so there's not a lot of time to get to know the external players in the novel as well as those whose perspectives are integral to the novel. Charli and Blake get ample scene time, and their voices are strongly asserted, but the external cast of characters aside from the families were more difficult to get to know, and there are quite a few of them to keep track of. That's not to say that they didn't play integral roles to the plot - they did in spurts, but there was a part of me that wanted to know more, to feel more of their impact in the story at large. I also thought there was a little too much telling and not enough showing of certain conflicts that were portrayed in the novel. On one hand, I definitely appreciated the internal thoughts of both Charli and Blake in their respective lives and what they had to face. Some of this was done very well when the teens recognized what their parents or friends were trying to say or what they were going through, but they made it clear that they felt differently about the matter. Thank goodness for this, because it shows that the characters are intelligent and free-thinking - something that I don't see in a lot of YA novels, and it's a gem. At the same time, I think the telling of certain details lessened the emotional impact and told the reader the conclusions to draw, rather than allowing the reader to gain the lessons learned of each character from the emotional impacts and consequences that came to pass. It's not so much that it lectures, but rather stunts the emotional impact by repeating information that I think could've just been gained from showing the scene and letting it speak for itself in the dialogue and rolling events. It's minimal, but still impacted my enjoyment of the novel to a certain degree.I think teens who are emotionally invested in the story won't mind that though, because the unraveling of events here is engaging, and it kept me reading throughout both Charli's and Blake's stories save for perhaps a few stumbling blocks in the beginning with the introduction of the characters. But the narrative voices were strong, the issues were handled well (probably could've been expanded more for fuller emotional resonance), and it begins a series that I think its respective age audience will like. I definitely liked "Always Upbeat/All That" and would certainly recommend checking into further books in the "Lockwood Lions" series.Overall score: 3/5Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Smith Publicity/Saddleback.On another note: I'm hosting a giveaway of an ARC of this title on my blog, "Writing Through Rose Tinted Glasses"! See the following link for details: Contest ends May 25th, 2012 at 11:59 PM EST. Good luck guys!