I've been so (gratefully) busy with editing work the last several weeks that I haven't had time to read anything for pleasure aside from pages from the new book my crit partner is writing.
Yesterday, however, my desk was clear for the first time in what just seems like forever, so I picked up the ARC for Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers. I was tired, my eyes were wiped out from too much screen time, and I was planning to just read for a few minutes before I caught up on some things here at home that have fallen by the wayside lately.
But then I couldn't put the book down. I read it straight through, and my children have another day of rifling through laundry baskets piled high with clean clothes I didn't get around to folding.
Let me start out by telling you one of my biggest pet peeves in any novel I read, whether it's YA or adult, contemporary or historical, fantasy or mystery: the main character not doing what any normal person in her position would do. It's a simple thing, right? But how many times have you yelled at a character in a book--or an actor in a movie--because they're being just plain stupid? She's storming out on you? Don't give up so easily; go get her! The front door is unlocked when you get home, and you know a serial killer is on the loose? Get back in your car right now!
That being said, the main character in Some Girls Are listened to me! Regina Afton was never predictable, but she was normal, and that's something vital to writing a believable young adult novel, regardless of the genre.
I graduated high school about (*mumblemumble*) years ago, and I remember looking around on graduation night and seeing everyone crying and thinking, "Are you kidding me? You think an end to all of this crap is sad?" I was thrilled to be done. I had some great friends in high school, but I was so relieved to be out of there that I breathed more freely that evening than at any point in the four previous years. I had never been bullied (not past junior high), never been "frozen out," never had the popular clique gang up on me in full force to make my life miserable, but did I loathe a few of them? Absolutely.
So what really surprised me about Some Girls Are is that I empathized with the main character: a mean girl. I didn't always like her and my stomach churned at some of the things she'd done, but Courtney Summers let me actually feel not so much for her but with her. Courtney has a great exchange between Regina and Michael, a boy she and her friends had 'ruined' earlier in high school. She apologizes to him and he just gets pissed, telling her she's not sorry: she just feels guilty.
For me, the scene encapsulated what I got out of this book: this idea of stepping outside of yourself in order to get past yourself.
Those girls I hated in high school who hated me right back? It was so easy for me to separate myself from them: "Here's the line. You're over there because you're mean and nasty. I'm over here because I'm a nice person and would never treat people like you do." But how different was I, really? How different are the bullies from the bullied in Some Girls Are? Had my arch nemesis fallen off the top of that social ladder, would I have welcomed her or shunned her? Would I have said, "I understand. It's hard down here"? Or would I have said, "Serves you right" and walked away? Feeling what other people feel is difficult and can be completely impossible. And when it IS possible, it's also painful. Making that line between them and us as vivid and bold as possible protects us from caring when we don't want to and from empathizing when, honest to goodness, we just want to hate.
This book isn't comfortable to read. It will make you ache. It will make you think way too much about things you probably don't want to think about and haven't thought about in a long time. And that's a really, really good thing, if you ask me. It's the best kind of book for those very reasons.
And as a kind of p.s.: This is the first book I've read in a long time that made me go back and read the last page over and over again because it was so perfect, and because I didn't want to admit it had ended.