February Book Review: The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe


Caroline Owen

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, 367 pages, YA Fic

Warnings: minor mentions of self-harm and attempted suicide, prominent stereotyping, insensitive remarks, bullying

Themes: adolescence, high school, coping with change and loss, friendship, identity, stereotyping and cliques


A wonderful debut novel which depicts how, through one full school year, a Canadian transfer student learns first-hand to not judge others by their labels and how, in heart, people are much more than what others define them as. ★★★★★




The novel follows the story of Norris Kaplan, a Black French-Canadian teen who abruptly moves to Austin, Texas for his last two years in high school due to his mother’s work. Repulsed by the hostile heat and demeanor of Americans, Norris is dead-set on thoroughly hating the rest of his high school education in a country he feels no ties to. In Texas, Norris sticks out amongst his peers for being an avid lover of ice-hockey, fluent French speaker, and overly sarcastic and judgmental. For the first few months of the school year, Norris is faced with animosity for his obvious differences and resorts to journaling to cope.


Indirectly by the advice of his guidance counselor, Norris begins keeping a “field guide” logged with descriptions, examples, and personal experiences of Anderson High’s major social stereotypes–the jocks, cheerleaders, artsy kids, and Norris’s self-proclaimed “losers.” The field guide becomes Norris’s way to cope with the bullying and uncomfortable situations he endures at school, although the notations are far from kind. In the field guide, Norris pours out his feelings concerning the school’s bullies, popular crowd, and other students which he dislikes.


As he begins to settle into his new life in Texas, however, Norris realizes that not everyone lives up to their label. Initially disgusted by them (or rather his stereotyping of them), Norris finds himself friends with some the school’s most popular cheerleaders and jocks. Through starting a Texan ice hockey team with his classmates and understanding the deeper aspects of his friends’ lives, Norris starts to see that despite their cliques or backgrounds (financial, ethnic, or social), a person’s worth is really determined by their character. Akin to his newfound knowledge, Norris alters his perceptions of others and begins to soften himself and his often-voiced criticisms, understanding that his peers are much more complicated and interesting people than they are perceived as.


Life in Texas is going well for Norris until prom night when his friends discover the field guide in a drunken argument. Upon reading its contents, they’re revolted and livid at the way Norris portrays them and simplifies their existences to pages on paper, Norris’s closest friends storm off and seemingly break off contact, betrayed beyond belief, leaving Norris with the question: can he salvage the many broken friendships left in his wake, or will he flee back to Canada and become another teenage wallflower, forgotten?




I personally love The Field Guide to the North American Teenager for its relevance and true, in-depth look at teenage life. The novel takes an excellent look at how the social construct of cliques and stereotypes in high school can be misrepresentative and harmful, which is a theme every student should be aware of. Through the mistrials and mistakes of Norris, the reader learns the importance of properly understanding a person before judging them, a valuable lesson. Additionally, the novel discusses very relevant themes to today’s teenagers and is written from the perspective of a sixteen-year-old, a character who readers can identify with and relate to. The novel isn’t sugar-coated, and I find its raw detail and exposure refreshing as it describes life as a high school student and social issues very accurately and truly without censorship. Overall, the novel is an excellent read for those who are looking to connect with the main character emotionally and mentally and pays homage to adolescence wonderfully.