Pepped Up by Ali Dean

Pepped Up Cover

R-rated YA/NA girl-power, sports novel with romantic-triangle subplot

Pepped Up (Pepper Jones #1) by Ali Dean

Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: August 25, 2013
Pages: 238 pages
Source: Purchased
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

Sixteen-year-old Pepper Jones loves running, and she’s fantastic at it, even though she’s only been running a little over two years. In fact, she’s well on her way to achieving her goal to become a national cross-country champion this year, while still a junior in high school. The only thing complicating her life is her long-term crush on her best friend, seventeen-year-old senior, Jace Wilder. They’ve been neighbors since they were toddlers. Pepper’s parents died in a car accident when she was a baby, and Jace’s mother deserted him and his father when he was four. Pepper’s grandmother, Bunny, became her guardian, and she became Jace’s chidlcare provider, too, when he lost his mother. Pepper regarded Jace in a sisterly light until the summer Pepper was thirteen and Jace was fourteen, and she suddenly became aware of how gorgeous he had become–and the unsettling reality that girls were flocking around him, vying for his attention, many of them physically pawing him in the process.

Unfortunately for Pepper, the odds of her ever being more than a little sister to Jace are slim to none. He’s never flirted with her or in any way indicated that he has any romantic interest in her. And at the end of the previous school year, she overheard Jace telling one of his friends that he could never date her, because she’s like family to him. As a result, Pepper has done her best to hide her true feelings from Jace, not wanting to lose him as a friend. But it’s a constant, painful struggle to accomplish that, because her heart is shredded anew every time she’s forced to witness womanizing Jace accept the latest of an endless string of eager offers of sex from girls Pepper considers far more attractive and sophisticated than herself. He’s so in demand, in fact, that he’s recently begun enjoying the sexual favors of college girls from the nearby University of Colorado (UC), as well. Yet, in the midst of all this debauchery, it’s evident to everyone who knows Jace–except Pepper–that he’s never gotten emotionally involved on any level with any female other than Pepper.

In contrast to Jace, Pepper is practically a nun. She’s never dated, other than a fellow member of her track team escorting her to the prom last year as “just friends,” and she’s never even been kissed. But suddenly, her lack of a love life might actually change, because Ryan Harding has come to town.

Ryan is a new student at Pepper’s high school who is a star, cross-country runner like Pepper. He’s moved to Colorado from California because his father is the new coach at UC, which Pepper hopes to attend after graduation. He’s almost as handsome as Jace, and certainly as athletic and ripped. And where Jace is a talented football player courted by numerous top-drawer university football coaches, Ryan is a potentially world-class runner, equally pursued by athletic departments at prestigious universities all over the country. Ryan is also almost as fawned on by every girl in sight as Jace.

But there are major differences: Where Jace refuses to see Pepper as a romantic partner, Ryan admits what all the boys at school know–and have never said to Pepper’s face because of Jace’s over-protectiveness–that Pepper is a beautiful girl and ideal girlfriend material. In addition, where Jace is a classic “man whore,” Ryan has only dated one girl in his life, and he was faithful to her for the entire three years of their relationship, up until just before Ryan’s family moved across the country and Ryan ended the relationship. Also, unlike Jace, Ryan only drinks the occasional beer and does not get drunk or do drugs. Additionally, Ryan doesn’t spend his time, as Jace does, hanging with the popular crowd at school, even though he is eagerly accepted in their ranks from the start. Instead, he chooses to socialize with Pepper’s laid-back, track-team friends. Best of all, he shares Pepper’s passion for running.

Pepper realizes her choice should be perfectly clear between these two boys: forget her unrequited crush on Jace and accept a relationship with a high-class guy, and she does try her best to carry out that decision. But unfortunately, as soon as Pepper begins dating Ryan, Jace suddenly starts acting like he’s anything but Pepper’s pseudo-brother, and more like he’s–could it be?–jealous.

What I liked:

This author is clearly a very talented writer. Her writing is smooth, and her characterizations are vivid and three dimensional. Pepper is a dynamic, extremely sympathetic heroine. I enjoyed the use of first-person point of view, and I found the window into Pepper’s running world fascinating. It is obvious the author knows that world very well but, more than that, she conveys it in such a way that, even if the reader knows nothing about running and could care less about it, Pepper’s experience of it is exciting enough to inspire readers young and old to jump into a pair of running shoes and take off. The setting in Colorado also comes alive on the page and makes the reader long to visit that amazing, mountain-filled state.

What isn’t suited to my own individual taste:

First, while listing what I didn’t enjoy, I want to make clear that I am not grading this book down for not being entirely to my own personal taste (as you can see by the 5-star rating), because I don’t consider that a literary crime. Many other readers may find the aspects of this book that did not suit me to be a perfect match for their reading interests.

First, I’m not myself a fan of YA romantic triangles because, as is the case in this book, sometimes the guy who ends up with the heroine is not who I had hoped she would choose. It is a testament to how great the rest of the book is and what a wonderful heroine Pepper is, though, that I found it impossible to put the book down, in spite of its romantic triangle. Just in case I didn’t make it absolutely clear from what I said already, Pepper is one of the most terrific heroines in YA/NA I’ve encountered, whether in indie or mainstream YA/NA novels.

Second, I’m not a fan of R-rated YA/NA novels, which is what I consider this book to be, and I had many squeamish moments at the various bacchanalian activities portrayed onstage or mentioned as occurring offstage in this book. Pepper, herself, though, truly respects her own body as her vehicle for the passion of her life, her running, and as the book is in first-person point of view, the reader is not encouraged to see either drinking, drugging, or mindless sexual activity as a positive choice.

If you enjoyed this book’s girl-power, sports plot, you might also want to read:

Cinderella Steals Home by Carly Syms (baseball)

Cinderella in Cleats by Carly Syms (football)

Cinderella in Skates by Carly Syms (hockey)

Falling Hard (Roller Girles #1) by Megan Sparks (roller derby)

Hooked by Liz Fichera (golf)

Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally (softball)

Racing Savannah by Miranda Kenneally (horse-racing jockey)

In particular, if you liked the platonic, “man-whore,” best-friend subplot of this story combined with a girl-power, sports main plot, you’ll love:

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally (football)

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine: 5

Subcharacters: 5

Setting: 5

Girl-Power Sports Plot: 5

Romantic-Triangle Plot: 3

Writing: 5

Overall: 5

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