Release date: 2007 US paperback
Genre: Contemporary YA Fiction
Target audience: 12+
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Hacking Harvard is a funny, contemporary teen novel set in Cambridge, Boston. Think: subversive techno spy novel meets a high school romance with a great big helping of humour thrown in!
The first time I tried to read this book my brain just didn’t get it. The opening scene sees the three main characters – Eric, Max and Schwarz – mid-action. They are undertaking a hack. But because we are also given their code names for the operation, it was all rather confusing. I bought this book when I was in Boston, specifically in the Harvard Coop – a book store that is actually mentioned in the book – so I really wanted to read and enjoy it. So I decided to come back to it another time when my brain was less tired and the second time, I did get it. Not only did I get it, but I found it to be absolutely brilliant. Hacking Harvard is one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Eric, Max and Schwarz are self-proclaimed geeks. They wear their geekiness with pride. Eric is characterised with a very strong sense of right and wrong. His world is black and white and he doesn’t accept any middle ground. He’s a technological genius and he uses it to rebel against the system and the corporate machine. Max is more of an entrepreneur. He is motivated by money and is more of an ideas guy. Schwarz adores numbers. He is already a Harvard student and he is unable to say no to anyone so ends out getting into all kind of mischief. But the person who tells this story is Alexandra – Lex to her friends – and she is full of surprises.
There were so many fantastic things about this book. The characterisation was quirky and the dialogue had a funny and captivating spark. From the outset Eric, Max and Schwarz’s goal is clear: they will get a bona fide bum into Harvard. It will be the best hack of all time. Each character has his own reasons for taking on the challenge. I felt in very safe hands reading this book. The direction of the story was always clear. There were obstacles in the way of hacking into Harvard and our heroes had to find ways to overcome them. Then there is the love story. It was sweet and frustrating and charming but I want to keep you guessing about that. It is a joy to discover as part of the reading journey. The stakes of the story kept being raised and so I really wanted the hack to come off. I was rooting for them.
Having visited Harvard and Cambridge, the setting felt very familiar to me and I had such a clear picture in my mind about how and where the action unfolded. But above all, this book was simply a joy to read. It was funny. It was tense. It was romantic. It was quirky. I cannot recommend it enough. For me, Hacking Harvard had everything a great teen book should have: great dialogue, fast pace, relatable characters, humour and a cracking plot. Robin Wasserman’s genius writing was an absolute pleasure to read and I am so happy that I brought this book all the way home from the USA.