Spain or Shine by Michelle Jellen

By Ekta R. Garg

September 26, 2012

Rated: Borrow it

A high school student decides she needs to emerge from the shadows created by her over-achieving older siblings and uses a study abroad program to accomplish her goal since that’s the one experience none of her siblings have ever had.  She chooses Spain as her destination and there gets to indulge in her love of playwriting.  When she meets a cute boy, she’s all agog, but her friend in the exchange program helps bring her out of her shell in the lightweight YA novel Spain or Shine by Michelle Jellen.

Elena Holloway knows the only hope she has of distinguishing herself from everyone else in her large family is by accomplishing something no one else has.  Hence her application for the “Students Across the Seven Seas Study Abroad Program.”  She wants to strike new territory for herself, and where better to do that than on another continent?

But while Elena has won the approval of the admissions committee with her politically-correct application, she knows Spain will be the place for her transformation.  She’ll go there the simple girl who loves writing plays, harbors a secret fantasy work to in films, and who always has her head in the clouds (according to her family,) but she’ll come back confident, more assured of herself in her own personality, and several shades darker from her many days on the Spanish coast.  She’ll also, hopefully, find someone to like her—preferably someone with a cute Spanish accent and a great body.

Elena reaches Spain and begins to fumble her way around San Sebastian, the main city of her semester in Europe.  With the help of her new friends, Jenna and Alex, and several other high schoolers participating in the program, Elena slowly starts to come out of her shell.  She discovers that it’s okay for her to be herself.  She finds out that everything she ever wanted from life, she could find in her own backyard.  And a whole host of other clichés.

Because in this book (and all the others in the series,) the cliché fits.  Aimed at the tween and early teen set—girls approximately 11 to 14 years old—the “Students Across the Seven Seas” series takes the opportunity to explore different countries with a different young female protagonist in every novel.  While the story probably revolves around the same issues in almost all the books (of which there are more than a dozen) in this imprint for younger readers from Penguin Books, one of the most positive aspects is the exposure to new cultures and languages readers will receive.

First-time author Michelle Jellen spent time in Spain, and even San Sebastian, after college, and her own personal experience as well as her confidence with those portions show.  Readers will be able to see the waves on the beach and feel the rattle of the train as Elena and her friends travel from San Sebastian to Madrid for a weekend.

The scenes toward the end feel rushed.  Elena goes to Barcelona to meet her great aunt (for whom she was named.)  While some young readers may sigh in relief that they don’t have to spend too much time with a stuffy old woman (despite Jellen’s depiction of Great-Aunt Elena as a vibrant elderly lady,) others may wish they’d gotten to know Great-Aunt Elena better—especially because she’s the familial and genetic source for main character Elena’s creativity and talent.  And also one of the reasons Elena chose Spain in the first place.

While Spain or Shine may not have anywhere near the depth of character or plot as, say, The Hunger Games or the Harry Potter series, it’s a fine weekend read for anyone wanting to explore Spain and a safe alternative to other books out there for young women.  I’d certainly recommend it for anyone looking for YA books for girls in the tween set and if you can grit your teeth through the corny scenes between Elena and the boy she comes to like, then any reader can appreciate the realistic scene setting of the featured country.


What the ratings mean:

Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection.  It’s definitely worth it!

Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.

Bypass it–Free time is precious.  Don’t spend it on this book!

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