Risky Business by Nicole O’Dell (Barbour Publishing, 2010) is two novellas collected into one book. I like them both. O’Dell has a nice feel for teen life and issues–boy/girl interest, parents, schoolwork. However, while these elements play a part in the stories, she doesn’t focus on them.  She departs from these more typical teen storylines and looks into issues—having a job and being on a sports team–that are important in teen life but less discussed. Bravo! Another interesting feature is that each story breaks off at a critical point and asks the reader to choose from two choices what she would do. Then the book gives a scenario of how each choice might turn out. Very cool! Very thought-provoking!

The first story, Magna, focuses on the world of working. Three fifteen-year-olds decide to look for jobs to increase their spending money. That they want to spend the money on clothes may seem a little superficial, but many teenage girls will identify with the longing for better wardrobes. The novella deals realistically and with a lot of detail about job hunting and working in retail.

Molly is more savvy about job-hunting and displays a greater aptitude for working in clothing retail then her two friends. Of the three she is the only one hired by the upscale clothing store–Magna.  Molly is good on the job as well. Teen readers who would also like a job may pick up a few pointers from her job-hunting and her work habits.

Molly’s greatest work challenges are ethical ones.  These are the heart of the story. Several popular girls want to take advantage of Molly’s discount and even her friends expect to profit from Molly’s job. Molly who is a Christian wrestles with the demands (on the part of the popular girls) and expectations (on the part of her friends). She makes some questionable choices. Her confusion about what is right and wrong in these situations is culture-wide. I think O’Dell is wise to bring up these situations.

The temptations at work grow for Molly. Finally she comes to a time when she is asked to do something she knows is wrong. But the pressure is on. What will she do? The reader is asked to decide what she would do if she were Molly?

The other novella is Making Waves. Many teenage girls are involved in sports and with the recent Olympics those numbers will swell. This story of a fifteen-year-old girl who gains a spot on the swim team will resonate with many readers.

Kate, though only a sophomore, is an excellent swimmer and quickly rises to prominence on her team. Her coach thinks she could eventually win a scholarship. This is an added incentive for Kate to do well because her mother is a widow. However, the demands of swim practices, school, homework and a social life begin to take a toll and Kate finds herself exhausted. Older girls on the team recommend drinking coffee regularly. Later they suggest caffeinated sodas, saying many of the girls on the team use them for keeping their energy up. These same teammates later encourage Kate to take caffeine pills.

Kate’s use of stimulants comes to a halt when her mother discovers them in Kate’s bag. Kate promises to stop and does. At State Championships and with a college swim coach in the audience, Kate is tempted to take speed to boost her sagging energy. Should she do it? Again the reader is asked what would she do if she were Kate?

The main characters and many of the other characters in the novellas are Christians. O’Dell looks at the story problems from a Christian point of view, particularly in the scenarios. The outcomes that she offers are truthful and sometimes surprising. In those where Molly and Kate choose wisely, they both suffer some rejection. While teens might cringe at this kind of suffering, they will recognize it is real and they will benefit from reading about how each girl handles that rejection. All the options end on an up note and all are filled with God’s grace, His mercy and wisdom. I think Risky Business would be a terrific book for group discussion–a book club, a mother/daughter read or just a group of friends.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer, and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.) Two of her published works for children are Marty’s Monster and Jessica Jacobs Did What?  For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

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