Taylor Lukens is a star soccer player, a member of the debate team, and a candidate for valedictorian at her private high school, St. Andrews, in Tennessee. Her academic success, in addition to her father’s fame as senator, makes her a great candidate for Yale, the university all of her family members have attended. When Taylor is caught with her boyfriend’s Adderall pills, she takes the fall for him and hopes that her family name will save her from punishment, but she gets expelled from St. Andrews instead. Taylor has to attend the public high school, Hundred Oaks High, for her senior year since her parents and the school administrators are convinced that she has a drug addiction problem. With her chances of getting into Yale slim, Taylor starts to realize that her lifelong dream of taking over her family’s finance company is not looking as appealing as she thought. When her brother’s old friend Ezra comes back to town, Taylor starts to realize that her expulsion has opened her eyes to more possibilities than just Yale.
Fans of Kenneally’s work will be familiar with the setting and characters that have been featured in her other six novels, so Defending Taylor easily fits into the small, Tennessean community that Kenneally had previously established. This novel, however, does not require any prior knowledge about the characters or the setting. Those who have read Racing Savannah, also by Kenneally, will recognize Jack and Savannah when they make several appearances in Defending Taylor. This story heavily stresses the importance of hard work and how dropping a name is not always the way to success. Even when Taylor is expelled and it appears like she has no chance of getting into Yale, she is still determined to correct her mistakes so the admissions officers give her a chance. A love interest is a typical feature in Kenneally’s novels, and she does not disappoint her fans. Any teenage girl who has had a crush on one of her brother’s friends will be able to relate to the way Taylor feels about her brother’s friend Ezra. While Taylor has feelings for Ezra, she is also a strong, independent young woman who can hold her own without relying on a guy. She takes a stand against the mean girl on her soccer team, and she confronts her parents about her feelings about college. Any readers who have enjoyed Kenneally’s other novels should check out Defending Taylor for their next good read.