Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Abandon all hope -Ye who enter here.
This is what I wanted to inscribe on a plate and stick on the front page of the book as I was reading the first half.
Have you read my profile description? Well, I state that I read only what relaxes me. This book is NOT relaxing. It's depressing. At least for the first part. So if you are all about flowers and puppies, happy thoughts and happily ever afters, I warn you that this book will not make you feel better.
Deanna is 16 lives in the blue-collar town of Pacifica, where her parents work some pretty low-paid jobs. She is well-known in town because, at age 13, she's been caught by her father in the backseat of a car having sex with Jimmy, her older brother's best friend. Even after 3 years, her life still seems to be defined by this pivotal moment, by this incredibly stupid mistake she's made and just has to live with the slut label.
Being realistic YA fiction, this book is not about action. It's all about characters. The first thing that bugged me is that it's really hard to find a likable character, starting with our MC, Deanna. Deanna is your typical teenager with "father" issues; unable to receive attention and love from the figure she looks up to the most, she throws herself in the arms of the first person that makes her feel somehow special, even though she is too young and this person is all wrong. This is not uncommon.
What irked me was her initial - not so initial because it lasted three years but initial for the book - inability to snap out of it. This event becomes a big deal because she lets it become one and lets it define her. I also thought the whole resonance of the matter in town was a bit exaggerated, that after three years people would still be mean to her about it and adult people would still talk. I come from a small town too and, over the years, there have been a few people who have made some embarrassing mistakes and they got public but I thought this was a bit blown out of proportion, especially by her father. 13 is definitely too young to have sex but, unfortunately, not very uncommon nowadays. It's a mistake but not the end of the world.Aside from Deanna, her whole family is dysfunctional, with the exception of Darren who, even though a father at only 19, seemed to be the only one with a bit of grain in his head.
But the sense of terrible social degradation that permeated the whole story is what struck me the most. The mess in the house, the house falling to pieces with Christmas lights still out and nobody even caring about it, the diner where she works, the descriptions of which made my stomach churn with disgust, her squalid encounters with Jimmy, all left me with a sense of despair and hopelessness I wasn't really willing or ready to get into. I know the problem is me doing the ostrich in this case but, when left with a choice, I'd rather not read about other people's unhappy situations in life.
Fortunately, throughout the second part of the book and to the end, Deanna slowly starts her path towards a partial redemption, finally trying to communicate with her family, confronting Jimmy and salvaging her friendship with Lee. Zarr doesn't leave you completely hopeless but tries to resolve issues in the interpersonal dynamics of the characters, introducing forgiveness, mainly.
This to say that while I was pretty much hating the first part of the book I have to admit that, end in end, this deserves a little more than 3 starts for me and that, in fact, I did like it. The story is very well written and very intense, the characters are well developed - though unlikable - and the ending is in tone with the rest of the book, not overly optimistic and unreal Hollywood-movie-like but more subdued, with little hints that it can get better.
I cannot give it a higher rating because this book is probably not for me. Or maybe it is, because I almost read it in one sitting but it's just that I don't want to read about this. The feeling I had that the characters have limited free will and that are, in reality, victims of their social conditions just leaves me with a bitter taste in the back of my mouth I don't want to have.
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