Most Likely by Sarah Watson follows a group of four friends who lean on each other to make sure they excel in their senior year of high school as one of them is destined to become president of the United States.
The story starts in 2049 the morning of the inauguration for the president-elect, except her identity is not revealed. We see her bemoaning the decision to take her husband’s surname, Diffenderfer. Her advisers had told her it would be the traditional thing she can do to please the masses. Then we’re teleported back to 2019 Cleveland, Ohio, where a Logan Diffenderfer rounds the corner of William McKinley High School track that leads us to a group that’s been focused on sisterhood since pre-kindergarten without the traveling pants: Ava, CJ, Jordan, and Martha, their names listed alphabetically for fairness.
Ava Morgan wants to be an artist with her eye on the Rhode Island School of Design, better known as RISD, but her workaholic lawyer mother keeps begging her to choose a more stable career path and a more well-rounded institution. But with the argument over what she wants to do with her life and her life morphing into adulthood, she wonders about the identity of her biological mother. She feels like she can’t agree with her adoptive mother, who’s White, since she’s seen as the “moody Latinx girl.” It doesn’t help that she misses her advanced placement classes due to anxiety and depression. She also can’t stand the arrogant Logan Diffenderfer, her art class project partner, but when she ignites the search for the woman who birthed her, Ava may need Logan’s research expertise to fill out her family tree questions.
CJ, short for Clarke Jacobson, feels like Stanford University is in the cards for her if only she can bring up her SAT scores. After being disappointed with her previous scores on the first and second times taking the exam that determines college placement, CJ is preparing to take the exam for a third time. In the meantime, the cross-country runner is adding other activities to her résumé such as volunteering with an after-school sports program for kids with physical disabilities. Spending time with her boss Wyatt, who uses a wheelchair, is making her feel like she never felt, but she has to focus on the SATs. Logan Diffenderfer earned schoolwide recognition for his high SAT score, so maybe CJ can get help from him to stay on track.
Jordan Schafer, who is half-Black and half-White, knows she has to insert extra energy and determination in everything she does with the added pressure of racism. Already an award-winning journalist for her school newspaper, she’s trying to sniff out the answers for why the city has decreased opening hours for their beloved community park. The more she gains the trust of a legislative aide named Scott who works for a councilman, the more she risks revealing her hidden identity as a high school student reporter. And the line between source and reporter is getting murkier as Jordan presents herself in work dresses as an older, freelance reporter. She dated Logan Diffenderfer briefly since they work on newspaper activities like the exclusive story she’s hunting down.
Martha Custis worries she might not be able to afford college. Her single father just received a promotion in his warehouse job that grants him a regular work schedule but not health insurance. Though Martha is named after her distant foremother the first First Lady Martha Washington, her family blood doesn’t mean anything for her family finances as she juggles a job at an independent movie theater nobody goes to. She finds herself befriending her coworker Victoria, a rich girl with a European accent who’s only working at the theater because her uncle owns it. The socioeconomic divide between them irks Martha. When Logan Diffenderfer comes to the theater one day, he seems to be getting close to Martha’s coworker, and this intrigues Martha more than she would like to admit.
This young adult novel takes a more positive route by giving us college-bound female characters who are so ambitious that one of them assumes the U.S. presidency. We see all four girls working hard to stand out in their college applications but also helping each other through the pressures. The course of actions they are going through in the story is making them realize some of their goals are not exactly what they want.
Author Sarah Watson is accustomed to boosting supportive female friendships with her experience as the creator, executive producer, and writer of the former Freeform series The Bold Type. The five-season series focuses on three twenty-somethings in New York City trying to climb the hierarchy within a storied women’s magazine. In the show, the characters stand by each other through thick and thin to make sure they each succeed despite professional and romantic hurdles. The same formula is followed in a simpler setting like Cleveland where most girls’ ambition starts: high school.
The Bold Type also received backlash from star Aisha Dee, who played the third and lone Black and queer friend Kat on the show, for its lack of true diversity storylines for the character. The author takes that lesson through her novel to emphasize the girls’ diversity markers and the obstacles they present such as Ava being a transracial adoptee with mental disorders, CJ being academically challenged while working with the physically challenged, Jordan being biracial standing out in predominantly White spaces, and Martha being low-income raised by a single father.
Another factor is we meet the First Gentleman Diffenderfer in the beginning then realize each girl has their own complicated relationship with a boy with that last name, who is also smart and ambitious but seems breezy about his capabilities. Each girl is annoyed to some extent by Diffenderfer, his surname purposely full of syllables to let us know he feels like a handful to the friend group. The girls’ feelings toward Diffenderfer change throughout the story as we see them struggle to overcome their obstacles. Diffenderfer’s expertise always seeps into each of their situations. Though it seems like Diffenderfer is central to the story, the boy serves as the supporter they need, the supporter a female president would need to get to that history-making level of power.
Overall, Ava, CJ, Jordan, and Martha are a breath of fresh air when it comes to reading about ambitious girls and seeing their adventures of trying to shine for their dream schools and dream careers. These stories seem to fall behind in the young adult genre with the marketability and consumer appeal for the fantasy and romance subgenres that entertain teenage readers with stories that are largely unrealistic. This novel was published in the beginning of 2020, so it seems to have fallen behind in its media attention due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re looking for a book for a high schooler aiming for the stars, this book is for her. If you’re looking for a reminder that children are our future, this book is for you.