In this modern reimagining of The Frog Prince, debut author Alisha Sevigny turns a typical high-school drama on its head by setting it in tropical El Valle de Anton, Panama. Popular high-school senior Jess Stone used to be a straight-A student, but when she switched schools, she successfully used her smarts to imitate the social elite and shed her former geeky identity. But hanging out with the popular kids and her hot boyfriend leads to skipping a lot of classes, and soon Jess is failing biology. With her university dreams on the line, Jess’s teacher gives her one last chance to get a passing grade: join the school’s conservation club on a spring-break trip to Panama to help save the country’s endangered golden frog.
The environmentalist storyline runs throughout the novel, and the beautiful location is described in such vivid detail that it feels like another character in the story. But what’s most entertaining is how Sevigny balances an eco-conscious story about saving amphibians with a reminder that, sometimes, you have to kiss a lot of “frogs” before finding your prince. The story’s romance between Jess and Travis, a former bully from her nerd years, runs in a clever parallel to the conservation narrative.
Jess and Travis’s back-and-forth flirtation is predictable, but charming, and Sevigny captures the teen voice extremely well. The pair, as well as their friends Harp and Juan, are portrayed as average high school students. These are the kind of teen characters you want to root for and can identify with; they’re not heroes like The Hunger Games’ Katniss or wise beyond their years like Hazel Grace in The Fault in Our Stars. Their ordinariness is refreshing in a genre that is often fighting to make characters unnecessarily extraordinary.