Adams Higgs thinks he’s been a loser all his life. Now that he’s starting junior year in a new high school, he decides to take on, and win at, high school. Coached by his older brother, who was a ‘god’ at high school till he was paralyzed in a hockey accident, and inspired by Brian De Palma’s Scarface, Adam starts by selling homework to the popular kids but soon moves on to even more illicit services for them.
Adam wins the superficial trappings of success – the girls, the parties and the popular friends – but always wants more and never really becomes an integral part of the group. Despite the groundedness of his siblings, and his girlfriend, he ignores their advice and inevitably spirals down Tony Montana’s destructive path, though doesn’t go out in quite the same blaze of glory. In fact, considering his crimes, Adam gets off pretty lightly.
The book is written in very short chapters – from as little as one to word to, at most, four pages – in a vernacular style that is like a prose poem with some concrete elements and rap rhythms. The voice is cynical, scornful and knowing, representing “our boy” Adam’s point of view, and is interwoven with the small voice of Adam’s conscience.
Though it looks off-puttingly large, How to Win is actually a very quick read, and the style and subject matter could give it appeal to reluctant YA readers.