“ARCA Academy: La Chouchoute” by J.S. Gentry

“ARCA Academy: La Chouchoute” by J.S. Gentry 683 1024 Reader Views Kids

ARCA Academy: La Chouchoute
J.S. Gentry
Many Realms Media (2023)
ISBN: 979-8891845091
Reviewed by Terri Stepek for Reader Views (05/2024)

Writing entertaining novels for teens/young adults can be challenging. After all, the author must be relevant to an age group that is different than any other generation that has been in their teens. How does an author dip into that well to find the wisdom to create characters and conflict for a generation that can smell deception from across the school cafeteria? One way to be genuine with this age group is for the author to actually be a teen. Meet J.S. Gentry, a virtual powerhouse who is publishing her first novel at age 13. Yep. I know what you’re thinking: a 13-year-old can’t possibly write a decent book, right? Did I mention she’s a powerhouse? A juggernaut? A dynamo? Dauntless? 

This book is wonderful.

In “ARCA Academy: La Chouchoute” J.S. Gentry brings us characters who shine. Emma is intelligent and creative but struggles with her concentration and self-esteem. She’s also a bit introverted and spends a lot of time in her head which is totally cool, because she’s a synesthete. If you’re unfamiliar with synesthesia, it’s a neurological condition that mixes senses when stimulated. For instance, a person with this condition might “Smell the Color 9” (thank you, Chris Rice). Just let that settle in for a minute. This blending of senses creates neurological chaos for Emma on a regular basis, making her seem like she’s constantly checked out from reality. 

Emma’s parents decide it would be in her best interest to attend an out-of-state prestigious East Coast high school in Boston, ARCA Laureate Academy. She. Knows. No. One. There. Isn’t that a nightmare scenario for pretty much any teen? But wait. It gets worse. As Emma attempts to step out of her shell and make friends, she discovers that even her two roommates won’t talk to her. Plus, there’s a girl in the school that makes the movie “Mean Girls” look like it’s about nuns. New school, no friends, AND a brutal bully? Welcome to Emma’s nightmare. I was cringing at the thought, and I haven’t been a teenager in, well… decades!

Emma is a great character.  She’s personable, warm, and genuine. She wants to be friendly- it just doesn’t come easily to her, and it seems like no one around her is helping with that. Until she meets Jenny. Jenny is the yin to Emma’s yang. She’s outgoing, thrives on attention, and wants to draw everyone into her personal fun all the time. She’s Tigger with two legs. Their friendship is fun and witty, with touches of angst that happen whenever two (or more) teen girls are in the same room. As for the queen bully? Camille is a primary example of estrogen running amok. She’s evil and loves it. She doesn’t care if you’re a student or teacher, if you cross her you’re going down. Period.

The fact that Emma meets Camille in French class is especially fun and gives readers an idea of the style of rule Camille wields. Because Camille IS French. She lives in France. She has no reason to be in a first level French class. Yet there she is. With Emma. Making life miserable for everyone in her path.

I love what Ms. Gentry has done here with the major story line and the characters. We can all relate to this on some level, no matter our age. We can empathize with Emma (or maybe some of us relate better to Camille). As Emma struggles with her new school and lack of connection, she discovers an overgrown path down by the duck pond, and a potential new friend there. It’s a beagle puppy happily rolling in the muck by the edge of the pond. She decides he looks like a Max and determines they will be excellent friends.

What follows is brilliantly perceived and executed. Max is an echo of Emma in a way. He’s a happy pup who doesn’t realize what kind of trouble he’s landed in through no fault of his own. He needs help but has no one on his side. As he allows himself to let people into his life, he finds more than just shelter from the weather- he finds genuine friendship and love.

What a great story line! But it’s not the only thing happening at the academy. Camille continues her verbal and physical assaults, especially on Emma, who she nicknames la Chouchoute (“darling” or “pet”). She’s basically referring to Emma as the new French teacher’s pet. It’s not the worst thing to be called, but it does stick.

For all the moments when a reader can stop and reflect on events unfolding, “ARCA Academy: La Chouchoute” is by nature an entertaining, funny book that will delight readers from their teens on up. It’s not necessary to be a middle schooler to appreciate the angst, turmoil, deceit, melodrama, and cruelty Emma and her friends endure. But remember, these remarkable young women aren’t going to take this kind of trouble for long. Themes of loyalty, hope, resilience, and strength emerge from the aftermath of hurricane Camille and her entourage.

I highly recommend J.S. Gentry’s “ARCA Academy: La Chouchoute” as an excellent read. I’m willing to bet most authors will wish they could write as well as Ms. Gentry regardless of their age. She has a brilliant future ahead of her in whatever field she chooses to pursue. I’m personally hoping she’ll continue writing and bring us more from the girls at the academy!

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