Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Reading on a Theme: Mean Popular Girls

Life on the top of the social ladder is not for the faint of heart. This week's post is about mean popular girls, the things they do to maintain their position on top, and the resulting carnage. All I can say is that I'm glad this was not my experience of high school.

Why She Did It:
In Falling into Place by debut novelist Amy Zhang, Liz Emerson, beautiful, popular, and ruthless, is wracked with guilt over the lives she's ruined as a mean popular girl. So, hoping to die, she drives her car off a cliff. Told through several points of view and jumping back and forth in time, Zhang's novel slowly paints the complete picture of a trio of mean popular girls who look like the pinnacle of perfection on the outside but inside are quickly unraveling. Zhang's novel is beautifully written, but I struggled with the depressing subject matter. It is hard to think about teens who do this much damage to themselves. Falling Into Place is out September 9th, 2014. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Ousted from the Inner Circle:
In Some Girls Are, Regina Afton's place of the top of the social ladder as one of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girls clique that rules the school with terror and beauty, comes crashing down in one terrible night. She is frozen out, and her former friends are out to make her life miserable. She reacts the only way she knows how; she fights back. These are some serious fights. Regina is scrabbling for any handhold at all. She finds herself sitting with Michael Hayden, one of her former victims, at the garbage table. They have an uncomfortable relationship, but it grows on the reader as the two of them grow on each other, and Regina starts to embrace her humanity. Courtney Summers' book is good. Really good.

Body Swap: 
Scarlet is pretty, part of the mean popular girl clique, and a star soccer player. Lavender is picked on, klutzy, and sarcastic. On their thirteenth birthday (it happens to be on the same day) they both make a wish to be someone else. The next morning they have switched bodies. Suddenly, Scarlet is one of the girls her crowd picks on, and Lavender has to negotiate the mean crowd from the inside. Seeing the two navigate another life is both hilarious and poignant. To pull this off, Lavender and Scarlet have to talk and get along. In the process they build a friendship. Natalie Standiford's Switched at Birthday is such a cute middle-grade novel. And it has a great title too.

Mean Girl's Groundhog's Day:
In Before I Fall, Sam Kingston relives her dying day seven times. Each day is impressively different, even though basically the same events occur, and little by little Sam learns how to make the ending right. This is a good book, but it's one of the those books that is at times painful to read and where the characters have to do hard things and maybe they aren't even that likable. Sam is a mean popular girl and probably hated by most of her classmates, but what's so lovely about this book is that Lauren Oliver succeeds in making even Sam's not-so-nice friends absolutely sympathetic. The reader really feels Sam's love for these friends, and by the end you kind of love them too, despite everything.  

Misfit in a Popular Girl's Body: 
Anika Dragomir is the third most popular girl at school and friends with mean Becky Vilhauer, queen of the school. Underneath, Anika is pretty sure she's a freak. I read about half of this book before I had to quit. Anatomy of a Misfit is full of tired YAlit tropes: the slutty best friend, the crazy-Christian mom, the caricature of a step-dad, the loner-dude with a bad reputation. The whole thing came across to me as patronizing of small, Midwestern towns; as if all the people in the Midwest are intolerant and horribly judgmental. I could not stand Anika's voice with its combination of whine and flippancy. Andrea Portes book did not work for me. Anatomy of a Misfit is out September 2nd, 2014. Review copy from Edelweiss

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