In Review: The Pros of Cons

Laughter, tears, and drama against the backdrop of a collision of conventions is incredibly readable.

The Pros of Cons by Alison Cherry, Lindsay Ribar, and Michelle Shusterman

Published by Scholastic on March 27, 2018. Jacketed hardcover of 352 pages at $17.99. Also available as an Ebook. Intended for readers 12 and up, grades 7 and up. 

Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.

The cover: The authors’ names are at the top in yellow, the title is underneath them, and below that is a very interesting photo combination. There appears to be a rat standing upright with a witch’s hat on. Around its neck is a lanyard with a few buttons on it and a badge that states the rodent is an exhibitor. In the animal’s right hand is a miniature broom and in its left is a musical triangle. On the far right is a miniature drummer’s cymbal and a miniature tambourine is on the base. The rat is affixed to the white base by several pins going through its feet. This is an odd image, but one that this is humorous and does tease what this book contains. The jacket design on this book is by Maeve Norton. Overall grade: A-

The premise: From the back cover, “Vanessa Montoya-O’Callaghan is beyond excited for the We Treasure Fandom convention — or WTFcon — and it’s not just because of the panels and readings and workshops. It’s also where she’s planning to meet Soleil, her fanfiction co-author and online girlfriend, for the very first time. Phoebe Byrd prides herself on being the best drummer, and she’s ready to prove it during the solo competition at the Indoor Percussion Association. Unless hooking up with her cute bandmate, Scott — or sharing a room with her former best friend, Christina — proves to be too much of a distraction. Callie Buchannan is so desperate for some rare quality time with her dad that she’s acting as his assistant at the World Taxidermy Championships, an unlikely place for a sixteen-year-old to be. Unfortunately, when she discovers a secret her dad has been hiding from her, it becomes clear that the only things less alive than their relationship are his prizewinning stuffed turkeys. When a random mix-up in the hotel lobby brings together these three girls, they form a fast friendship against a chaotic background of cosplay, competition, and carcasses!” From this I gather there are three main characters, each involved with their own conflicts, but I’m guessing that they meet up at some point. I’ve been attending comic book conventions fairly regularly since 1986, so I’m looking forward to see how a modern convention is interpreted and I really want to hear a convention from a female point of view. This is hitting all the right interest points for me. Overall grade: A-

The characters: Vanessa Montoya-O’Callaghan is the most naive of the three leads. She’s been corresponding with Soleil online, writing fan fiction and having a perceived romance. When the pair meet, Vanessa finds that the online Soleil is very different from the real person. It’s easy to see that she’s going to be disappointed and upset, but what she does next is very inspiring for someone who’s been let down by another. Soleil is the character I really disliked throughout the book, but she deserves such feelings. Phoebe Byrd wants to be the best she can be as a drummer, but she’s put at a disadvantage at the beginning of the book for not having something necessary for her performance. I admired her for her ability to improvise, but possible romance gets in the way of her goal and, again, something terrible occurs. Phoebe is the most realistic character in the novel: she knows what she wants and wants everything to go smoothly, but obstacles hinder and distract her. She was a terrific character. Callie Buchannan is not having a great time, going along with her dad to a taxidermy competition. Her parents are divorced and she’s off with her father, doing something that she does not enjoy. Her relationship with her father is strained from the get-go and falls further as she makes choices. Callie was the character I felt the saddest for and her scenes with her father made me tense. There is a supporting cast for these leads, but naming them would spoil what they do, as they would receive unnecessary focus too soon. These characters are real, engaging, and ones to root for. I did. Overall grade: A

The settings: I was impressed with the hotel and its three simultaneous conventions being held. Characters bump into others, comment on how their convention is better than others’ conventions, and the unpredictability of what might possibly be found around each corner. I completely related because I was at a hotel in Florida for a Star Wars Celebration that was also holding attendees for a Yo-Yo Championship and a political primary: I saw Wookiees, yo-yo enthusiasts, and political candidates looking at each other in disdain at how anyone could be into that. This book has the same flavor with crowded hotel rooms, arguing and romantic couples in the oddest of locations, and costumed characters of all sorts. Heck, there’s even a karaoke singalong night with people in costume. There are workshops, salesrooms, and costume assistance. There is everything I’ve seen or heard about or seen at a convention and it was great. Overall grade: A

The action: There are no physical threats of any kind in this book, instead the action is shown with characters encountering obstacles that hurt their morale or stop them from achieving their goals. It’s dramatic as can be, as one would expect with teens away from home, and I was swept up by each character’s difficulties. In fact, I found myself feeling very uncomfortable and worried about Callie at one point that I had to put the book down because I was afraid that she would have something devastating happen to her. I continued to read the book and was happy with the results. The action of the characters’ choices was more than enough to keep me reading. Overall grade: A

The conclusion: Each lead’s story gets a realistic resolution. Some may be happier than others, but it can’t be denied that they are believable endings, given what the characters have been through. In fact, the door is left open for the characters to meet up again, though this book’s conclusion wraps all up neatly. Overall grade: A

The final line: I was not prepared to be so taken in by the characters of this book. I wanted nothing but the best for them and each hardship they encountered was extremely saddening. As they worked out their problems, receiving help from each other and friends they think they don’t have, I was relieved and happy by the end. Not all the characters have “happily ever after” endings, but they are real endings, and that’s the strength of this book: the problems encountered by these teens at a conglomeration of conventions are real. Laughter, tears, and drama against the backdrop of a collision of conventions is incredibly readable. Overall grade: A

To order a copy of this book go to https://shop.scholastic.com/parent-ecommerce/books/the-pros-of-cons-9781338151725.html

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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