Most Likely to Succeed is the final book in the Superlatives trilogy by Jennifer Echols. Though these books are not dependent on one another and you can read them individually, I think this one finishes out the themes and characters that all three books share very well.
Kaye is a planner, and she has her entire life planned out. For those plans to happen she needs her senior year to follow a certain path. That path does not include breaking up with her long time boyfriend and falling for the school's bad boy, Sawyer. Kaye knows she needs to focus on her grades, her work as student government vice president, and her position as head cheerleader. But Kaye and her boyfriend, Aidan, have been growing apart. When she dares to challenge him in a student government meeting and they break-up, it becomes harder and harder for her to deny her growing attraction to Sawyer. Ever since his first day in town, Sawyer has been battling the reputation that preceded him. Sometimes that has meant battling himself as he's made some admittedly bad decisions to feed that negative reputation. But Sawyer is not as careless as most people imagine him to be. There are some things he takes very seriously, and his feelings for Kaye included. Kaye and Sawyer both have to see beyond the lines that divide them if they're going to make a future together work.
Kaye is ambitious and driven, but she has reached that point in her senior year that many people hit. The moment when you suddenly start to question all the goals you've been working toward and whether or not you are the person you truly want to be. This has been the overarching theme in all three books, but Kaye's experience of it is slightly different. She is not only contending with her own plans for her future, which are not small, but also her mother's plans for her future. Kaye and her mother have a fraught relationship. Her mother came from an impoverished family in a crime ridden part of Tampa and worked her way out. She pushes Kaye constantly, and is often not a pleasant person. This is actually where the biggest conflict in the story lies and is, in my opinion, one of the best relationships developed in the three books as well. It just has so much depth to it. A relationship between a mother and daughter is always hard to navigate during this time in the child's life, but when the two personalities involved are more alike than they want to admit, it makes it even harder. There is a lot of fighting and consequences in Kaye's home life. She is rebelling a bit (a truly little bit) for the first time in her life. She feels a tremendous amount of pressure thinking she needs to be eight times better than everyone else because she is black, a girl, and her mother's daughter. Kaye and her mom are at odds often, but there is still a special bond there. Even when they are angry at each other, it is clear. There's a particularly great moment when Kaye's mom comes to help her roll hair before Homecoming. I enjoyed reading the interactions between Kaye and her father too. Both parental relationships shine a clear light on how Kaye became the girl she is and what motivates her.
In writing about Kaye I'm very conscious of being a white woman reviewing how another white woman wrote a black protagonist. From where I sit it was well done, but I acknowledge that I the place where I'm sitting is on the outside looking in. I do like Echols included some discussions of race (though I was a little uncomfortable at one point by Sawyer trying to tell Kaye that something she interpreted as racist wasn't). She also included Kaye's feelings of love for her hair and the intricacies of styling it.
Sawyer was a scene stealer in the first two books, and this book is sure to please all of the many fans I know he's accumulated with his crazy antics. He is not really a "bad" boy and not just because he has recently stopped drinking and smoking pot. He is incredibly hardworking and loyal to the people in his life he allows to get close enough. He is charming and compassionate. Other than telling Kaye how she should interpret certain remarks directed her way, he is all around fantastic. He has loved Kaye forever, and is prickly towards her in order to protect his heart. She has a lot of power to hurt him. I enjoyed the conversations between them and the development of their relationship. My one complaint about this is actually what I find to be the book's biggest weakness. They have a major confrontation in which Sawyer is incredibly hurt and angery. His flip afterwards was so fast I almost got whiplash. In many ways we got more of a resolution to Kaye and her ex Aidan's relationship than Kaye and Sawyer's relationship.
It was also lovely to get snapshots of all the other characters I've come to love from the other books. This is a wonderful group of friends. I particularly enjoyed Will. He is not my favorite romantic hero of the three, but in this book he is the ultimate friend to both Kaye and Sawyer.
I'm sad to say goodbye to this school and these characters.
Content Note for the Interested: underage drinking, mild sexual descriptions
I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Simon Pulse, via Edelweiss. Most Likely to Succeed is available for purchase on August 4th.