Jennifer Taylor seems perfect on the outside. Carolyn Samuels would give anything to be her carbon copy. On the outside Jennifer Taylor appeared put together, secure, smart and confident. But, was that the real Jennifer? Deep down Jennifer had a secret that she wanted to keep hidden from everyone. Jennifer wore an invisible mask or shield that covered up truths hidden beneath them. Appearances are everything to teens and being popular and beautiful paramount in their minds. Author Barbara Ehrentreu takes readers both adult and teen inside the mind of two young girls: Carolyn and Jennifer in her outstanding debut novel “If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor.” Ehrentreu brings to light the pressures and issues teens face when trying to fit in, dealing with bullies, weight problems and just surviving in high school. This is one novel that all teens and YA’s should read.
Dreams often mirror our true feelings about people and events in our lives. Carolyn Samuels wakes up from a really great dream. The only problem was she was not the person in it. Although thinking she was experiencing the events the description of the person mirrored that of Jennifer Taylor. The young man in question Brad, Jennifer’s boyfriend. Realizing it was time to start her first day of high school, reality set in, her feelings about herself, her appearance and weight issues brought to the forefront and Carolyn begins her day skeptical about her wardrobe choices, dreading meeting Jennifer in school and hoping she can fake being sick and get away with it.
The first day of school turns into a rerun of middle school for Carolyn as Jennifer finds her way into her life reminding her of what happened the previous year and poor Carolyn hears those famous words: Breathe Carolyn and zones out right in the middle of math class. Going to the nurse and being escorted by Jennifer made the situation even worse. Promising to do her math homework to keep her silence and prevent her from telling anyone what really happened to her was the price Carolyn had to pay. But, things went downhill as the math teacher pairs poor Carolyn with Jennifer and the end result is they have to do a project together for his class. Added to her misery Jennifer insists Carolyn buy new jeans and a top to wear when she is around her in order not to embarrass Jennifer. Wearing jeans and shirts that are oversized and big poor Carolyn suffers at the hand of Jennifer only to fit in and become more popular or as some say good enough to share her space. Jennifer’s prime concern looking right, being seen as the most popular girl in school and making sure she spends time with Brad. Carolyn feels as visible as the Invisible Man without the bandages to cover his face.
Going to the mall with Jennifer is anything but fun for Carolyn who misses shopping with Becky and Janie her two best friends. Trying on clothes that she never wears and having Jennifer pay for them totally out of character for her. Hoping to escape her and go home she never expects Jennifer’s mother to invite her over for dinner. Too embarrassed and polite to say no she accepts.
Carolyn gets to see Jennifer in several new lights as she learns her secret to staying thin. Creating a math survey and completing their graph for their project does not make them fast friends but allows Jennifer to learn more about Carolyn allowing herself to even like her but afraid to admit it. Jennifer, believe it or not offers to give Carolyn a makeover and assist her with her tumbling after seeing her play volleyball in gym class. Running for the bus after class she collides with Brad, actually speaks to him and then gets in trouble with the driver but smiles even though she is in pain all the way home. Carolyn is smart, perceptive and definitely a whole lot brighter than Jennifer realizes. Jennifer has an eating disorder and Carolyn picks it up while having dinner with her. Will she keep silent? Will she have a real conversation with Mrs. Taylor or will she keep it locked in her mind? Jennifer has not really been that nice to her and why would Carolyn even try to help her? There is much more to learn as I continue my review of this YA novel that teaches young teens the meaning of true friendship, loyalty, honesty and forgiveness. “If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor,” says Carolyn. Why would you want to be anyone but you? That is a real question that many teens should ask themselves and many adults need to be aware of when teens or even tweens begin copying the behaviors, styles and actions of others because they are popular. Being overweight all of my life as a kid, I can identify with Carolyn and how she feels about herself. But, allowing someone else to make you feel than who you are is wrong.
Makeover successful and allowing Carolyn to take some of her outfits cements their friendship to a fragile point. Jennifer confesses her problem to Carolyn and enlightens her to why she needs to remain bone thin and her hopes for an Olympic Medal. But, Carolyn in her heart feels that Jennifer needs help and is unsure of what to do. Keeping her secret might help their friendship grow but not doing something to help her might prove detrimental to Jennifer. Lying to her mom, her friends and even herself, Carolyn tries to keep everything and everyone on an even keel but can she? Going to the movies with her friends she overhears Maura, Jennifer’s refer to her a Jennifer’s shadow. How will Carolyn react to this? Is this why she loses her appetite at lunch and can’t eat? Why does she have to catch her breath and have trouble breathing when she gets upset or nervous? What will the end result be and will Carolyn admit how she feels for Brad?
Peer pressure, body image, friends with the right people and popularity are just some of the vital and valuable issues that are brought to light in this novel. Lessons are going to be learned by both Jennifer and Carolyn. Friendships are tested and bonds are broken and others tightened. This debut novel deserves to hit the bestseller list really soon.
Jennifer becomes ill and is taken to the nurse at school and this is where things shift for both Carolyn and Jennifer. Friendships will be formed and deceits and lies just might come out. Jennifer is concerned about her weight and the meets that she is preparing for in order to qualify for the Olympics. Carolyn is hoping to join the cheerleading squad. Brad has started to befriend her and she can hardly believe it. But, Carolyn is a loyal and true friend and is being torn between her friendship for Becky and Janie and her new one with Jennifer. Where will her loyalties lie and will she be able to handle what comes next?
Confessions are good for the soul they say. Betraying a trust is something no one should do except if it means saving someone’s life. As Carolyn feels the pressure of keeping Jennifer’s secret will revealing it to someone create a rift between them or will it be the right thing to do? Helping Jennifer prepare for her meet by doing her math homework for her is that the right way to go?
Jennifer has a fall in the gym and learns she won’t make the cut this year. But, what happens next as a result will definitely change the way you look at her and Brad. Carolyn thinks her world is shattered when she learns Brad likes her just like a friend. But, one young man in plain site would change everything for her. Math class can prove to be the best thing that happened to her this year.
The end of the year has come and Carolyn is about to have her sleepover birthday party. What happens will definitely surprise the reader as Carolyn, Becky, Jen, Maura and Janie play a game that will change all of their lives forever.
What happens will surprise the reader and help all teens realize that being Jennifer Taylor is not who you are it is who she is. Just what would Jennifer really want for her life and will their friendships continue? Let’s hope author Barbara Ehrentreu brings the girls back for a sequel. Perfect is relative. Friendship is what counts.
Fran Lewis: reviewer
This book gets FIVE PERFECT SOMERSAULTS AND FIVE PERFECT CHEERS!
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