Goals and dreams get you places. Determination, grit, perseverance, intelligence, and sometimes a few bribes, shady deals with shady characters, and a debate partner involved in computer hacking, gambling, and other petty crimes help move along those goals. Tanner McKay didn’t plan for any of this to happen; he just wants to win Nationals, so the coaches at Stanford notice him and pave the way for a scholarship. It’s just him, his mom, and his younger special needs brother, Sam and there is no way his mom can afford to send him to college, so he has to earn it. He caught the eye of Bannerman Prep’s debate coach when he beat their top policy debate team and ended up starting his junior year in a prep school he can’t afford, with an out of place old Bronco, and a debate partner that never shows up for class. The Duke, as he is known, is one of those mythical teenagers where no one knows the truth about him- rumors are thrown around like the money the kids spend. His parties are legendary, drives an old Porsche, says things like mate, and covets Tanner’s cousin, Abby, even though she already has a boyfriend. Sound familiar? It should because this is a loose retelling of The Great Gatsby.
As the semester goes on, so does Tanner’s insane debate preparation. It’s in these descriptions that resurrect my one semester of debate I took in high school and remembered that I was absolutely clueless in that class and hated every minute of it. The author, a former high school debate teacher, knows her stuff and does a great job breaking it down to the layperson, taking away the terror I felt but showing how passionate these kids are. Tanner’s obsession with winning, even with the seemingly aloof Duke as his partner, overshadows his normally moral self. He doesn’t ask questions when the Duke sneaks them all in after curfew, or how he got tickets to the world series and awesome concerts and can have parties every weekend without getting caught. His lack of questioning makes him accountable, but he and the Duke are winning debates, and he finally fits into the crowd at Bannerman. Especially with Kelsey, who's sworn off dating anyone else on the debate team but seems to be making an exception for him. As all good things must come to an end, Tanner’s ending is inevitable. The Duke mysteriously disappears right before the finals, and Tanner’s chances of winning are dwindling. But what’s worse is what he was willing to do to get here in the first place.
Fans of Gatsby or not, readers will enjoy this story. The mystery of the Duke, the prep school atmosphere, and the element of speech and debate make for a great read.