In our July Author Takeover, we’re joined by Simon James Green, whose hilarious Noah Can’t Even sequel, Noah Could Never, is out now in the UK. With parallels to Goblet of Fire and Harry’s encounters with Beauxbatons and Durmstrang students, Simon examines the perils of expectations, and overthrowing the easy stereotypes by getting to know each other as individuals with humanity in common. Of course, there are lots of laughs along the way while Noah figures it out…
Noah’s back, and more bananas! He and Harry are now officially boyfriends, but is Noah ready for the difference? It’s no help that a group of cosmopolitan French exchange students have descended on Little Fobbing – including sexy Pierre Victoire, who seems to have his eye on Harry! Meanwhile, Noah’s paired up with a girl … who, most outrageously, is not even French. But that’s not all: the police are monitoring Noah, and he can’t tell if it’s because his dad and secret half-brother, Eric, have made off with his gran’s fake diamonds; because his PE teacher is receiving mysterious cash infusions from Russia; or because drag queen Bambi Sugapops is hiding out at Noah’s house in the midst of a knock-down, bare-knuckled drag feud. Will Noah ever catch a break?!
The Perils of Cultural Expectations with Exchange Programs
Life certainly doesn’t get any easier for my protagonist, Noah Grimes, in his next set of (mis)adventures, Noah Could Never. This time, the catalyst for much of the drama is the arrival of the French exchange students in Little Fobbing, a town so beige and culturally lacking that the thought of some cosmopolitan, fashionable, attractive French teenagers sends Noah into a tailspin – especially when one of the French boys (Pierre) seems to have his eye on Noah’s boyfriend, Harry.
I remember the French exchange program from my own school days and the sense of anticipation for the arrival of these kids who were our age but surely nothing like us… not when they came from so very far away, like a whole 300 miles. Just like Noah’s, our expectations were deeply rooted in the TV shows, films, and adverts we had seen featuring “French people.” They were always well-dressed, classy, charming, sophisticated, they had the best food, and somehow, yes, they were always ridiculously good looking. When Noah thinks about all those things, he feels inferior. How can he ever compete?
There are, of course, French people who fit into all those stereotypes, just as there are Brits who fit the stereotypes of British people. But after our own exchange program, it was very obvious that the point was not to look at differences; it was to show how we were all the same. We were all the same bunch of teenagers, facing the same challenges, feelings, joys, and heartaches. When Noah expects Pierre and super-cool Eva to act and behave a certain way, he closes his mind to any other possibility and forgets that simple fact – the realities only hitting him at the very end of the novel.
Celebrate the differences, sure (and my goodness, French bread is divine compared to ours!), but more importantly, celebrate what makes us all the same, because there’s more of the latter than the former. Noah sees that in the end, just as we did, and he also learns an important lesson: don’t judge people according to how you’ve been culturally conditioned by the media – take people as you find them. Don’t come to them with preconceived ideas, but be open, unbiased, and most importantly, ready to celebrate.
Simon James Green is the author of YA novels Noah Can’t Even and Noah Could Never, published by Scholastic.