It’s probably misleading to call these reviews Twitter-style, but they’re inspired by Twitter since they’re short and to the point. I love writing a good, in-depth review, but doing that for the amount of reading I’ve been doing is impossible. Yet, I want to talk about so many of these books. Here’s a handful of titles I’ve read lately. I call this sample the “strong willed girl” sampler.
This Girl is Different by JJ Johnson follows Evie, a former homeschooled student who decides she wants to spend her last year of education in a formal high school. As sort of a social experience. The thing is, it turns out high school isn’t as coddling as her homeschool education has been and she finds herself in a heap of trouble as she tries to buck authority.
For me, this book was one homeschool stereotype upon another. Evie is less a character than she is a medley of beliefs and social justice convictions, and throughout the story she doesn’t once stop and consider that her ideas might be the problem. Instead, it’s everyone else around her who is wrong and ignorant. She sips yerba mate tea and does yoga and drives a 70s hippie mobile, loves nature and the environment and she doesn’t get why she should be told how to behave within her environment. Mom isn’t much better, either, as she chooses to work at Walmart (big corporation!) as sort of a social experiment, too. Or, really, because she can’t hold a job elsewhere since she is too quick to start espousing her beliefs.
I found it hard to believe Evie would be able to so quickly befriend two people when it was clear she had no socialization prior to beginning formal schooling. Her relationships were quite one-dimensional. She got along with these people because she could throw her beliefs upon them and the second they challenged her ideas, the relationships ended. Maybe the most challenging part of the book for me, though, was despite how much of a thorn in everyone’s side Evie is throughout the novel, in the end, she’s a hero. The message of sticking to your beliefs is fine, but I disagree with how it’s presented here. Here it’s wrapped under the guise of almost bullying people to believing what you believe. And the stereotypes!
The Girl is Different was well-paced and an easy enough read, despite the problems. It tries too hard to be Stargirl but I can see those who liked Spinelli’s successful tale of an off-beat girl finding this a worthwhile read.
Julie Chibbaro’s Deadly is a historical novel, set during one of my favorite time periods: the early 1900s, pre-war, right when technology and science and women’s rights sort of forged ahead in social consciousness. This novel explores all of those things.
Prudence Galewski takes a job in a science lab as an assistant. Her job was to be mostly secretarial (as women’s jobs were then) but her interest in science and learning it from the men she worked drew her to explore that side of the table. When typhoid begins to strike the city, she’s invested in figuring out just what the culprit is, and lucky for her, her boss allows her to travel on their investigations. That’s when things really amp up, as all fingers point to a housekeeper named Mary. She’s been present in home after home where the disease has wiped out families and now she’s been sent away to avoid spreading the disease further.
Where the plot to the story worked well and the writing advanced it well enough, I needed more passion from Pru as a character. She talks of her passion for science, but I wanted to see it more. I would have really loved to know more about what she was thinking about herself: she talks about women and the strange place women had in the world at this period in time, and yet, she herself, as a woman being allowed to participate in a huge disease case (one which science men pit the spread of typhoid on A WOMAN) doesn’t talk enough about it. She was almost there, but she wasn’t there enough for me on the topic. I found myself getting angry reading the book because of these issues and they left me wanting to talk about them, but the thing was, Pru didn’t feel the same way I did. Maybe she did, but I couldn’t tell from the story. Given it’s written in diary form, she had such opportunity to tap into those thoughts but she didn’t. And I knew she could because she’d tread close but then retreat. I feel like a little bit more of Pru’s internal processing would have taken this from a good read to a knock out for me.
She Loves You, She Loves You Not by Julie Anne Peters begins right where Alyssa’s life starts over. She’s been kicked out of her house by her father in Virginia and sent to live with her floozy mother in Colorado because he found out she was a lesbian and that was Not Okay. Alyssa works on picking up the pieces by finding herself in a part-time job and…finding Finn, a girl a few years older than her who makes her believe it’s possible to overcome the breakup she’d had with Sarah back in Virginia.
Alyssa’s a hard-headed character and she’s confident in who she is. I liked her more than I thought I would, even if she is a bit overbearing in it. The story is engaging as Alyssa moves from being ostracized for being who she is to embracing it and making it her way of life. She battles, too, the fact that her mom left her hanging when she was younger and now she lives with the same woman. Her mom is a complete stranger to her and she’s determined to learn who she is, though when the chips fall and she figures it out, the conclusions are too convenient and contrived. There were a lot of issues in this novel, and while they’re handled fairly well, they become repetitive. I found myself paying attention to these patterns in a way I shouldn’t have. The abundance of car wrecks and showers mentioned weakened those story moments for me because I fixated on how repetitive it felt.
Perhaps the weakest part of this book for me were the second person interludes. These flashbacks addressed a “you” that, for the first two instances, didn’t make sense to me. Were they letters to Sarah? They were actually addressing Alyssa, but that was not evident enough, and I felt that this took me out of the story instead of adding any sort of immediacy or intimacy to it. More than being jarring, though, it never felt resolved. While the tactic revealed the back story of why Alyssa was kicked out of her house, it left open a lot of questions about Alyssa’s relationship with Sarah that are never resolved. At the end of the book, I wanted to know more about Sarah, given she ties up many other loose ends (uncomfortably and satisfyingly for me as a reader).
This Girl is Different picked up from the library; Deadly purchased; She Loves You, She Loves You Not received from the publisher for Cybils review.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).