Sunday, 8 May 2011

Review: Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard - falling from it is even harder. Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High...until vicious rumours about her and her best friend's boyfriend start going around. Now Regina's been 'frozen out' and her ex-best friends are out for revenge. If Regina was guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumours are far from the terrifying truth and the bullying is getting more intense by the day. She takes solace in the company of Michael Hayden, a misfit with a tragic past who she herself used to bully. Friendship doesn't come easily for these onetime enemies, and as Regina works hard to make amends for her past, she realizes Michael could be more than just a friend...if threats from the Fearsome Foursome don't break them both first.

My review

This book was quite difficult for me to read at times; I had a pretty awful time at school and dealt with girls like ‘The Fearsome Fivesome’, so this book brought a lot of those horrible memories back. It’s one of the most evocative and realistic portrayals of bullying that I’ve read since Blubber – and my comparing Courtney Summers to Judy Blume is one of the highest compliments I can give her. 

Of course, Some Girls Are deals with characters that are older than those in Blubber but those feelings - that school is a battleground, that your classmates are capable of incredibly cruelty and the desperation to fit in and have that cruelty directed at anyone but you - is perfectly captured by both. What’s different about Some Girls Are, is that the protagonist and current victim, Regina, was not just a witness to past evils, she’s actually been a perpetrator of them. She’s terrorised girls before, just because she could, and when she herself is terrorised, I sometimes felt she was getting what she deserved. To be fair, so does Regina and several of the characters in the book.

This book made me take a good look at myself, because I still don’t really forgive the girls who made my life miserable and destroyed my confidence back then and I wondered if I could actually care about what happened to a girl like Regina. But ultimately I did, because it’s just a natural desire to not want to see people in pain and Regina doesn’t deserve the things that are done to her because, as her former target and now ally, Michael, says, no one does. Extreme cruelty is still extreme cruelty no matter who it’s done to.

But, yeah. Michael and Liz? Much better people that me. It actually scared me a little that I understood Josh (a wussy wimp) and to a certain extent Kara (a bullying victim turned bully crazy). There but for the grace of God, and all that. This book deals with the very worst of human nature and even Michael and Liz aren’t perfect and feel some pleasure at the pain of their enemies (Liz has a great line: “I’ve seen this show before. I totally starred in it once. Remember?”). Of all the characters, it’s probably head bitch Anna that the reader gets the least insight into and while some may find her one-dimensional, I found it fitting, as the narrative is from Regina’s perspective and Anna is the type that never lets her guard down and reveals her weaknesses. 

I was very taken by Summers’ prose and feel like she caught the spirit of true teen speak – this is basically how teenagers sound, with all the ‘ums’ and ‘erms’ and ‘likes’ taken out. Regina’s mostly uses quite simple words and short sentences, that get even shorter when she’s emotional, as if she’s struggling to choke the words out. And every so often, she makes an observation that’s profound or, bitingly funny. I cracked up when during a very tense moment, Regina notices, totally deadpan: Josh’s expression is unreadable, or he just doesn’t care. Marta is picking at her fingernails, waiting for a cue from a higher-up. Jeanette is giving the straw in her juice box head, hoping Henry will notice. He does. 

So, this novel is heart-rending and, despite the moments of warmth and humour, made me feel uncomfortable and upset. So why do I recommend it so highly (which I do)? Because it made me feel and think; it was powerful and true to life and I think it’s a book that needs to be read, by those of us who have been through it and those of you who still are.

Rating 4.5 stars

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