Little, Brown 2008 (2007)
Sara Zarr's books have been consistently recommended through numerous book blogs that I read, as well as making a lot of lists of some of the best contemporary YA out there. I was excited to finally read one of her novels, not least because I've been waiting a long time for the city libraries to locate a copy of a Zarr book - for over a year they've been showing up as lost on the system.
Story of a Girl tells the story of Deanna, a high school girl with a reputation. When she was thirteen, she was caught having sex in a car with a high school boy, Tommy, by her dad. The story spread around the town and around her peers, and ever since Deanna has been talked about, laughed at, mocked, and insulted, not to mention shunned by her own dad, who can barely look at her.
Deanna lives with her mum and dad, her older brother Darren, Darren's girlfriend Stacy and their baby daughter April. Barely any of the scenes that take place in the house are comfortable. Deanna's dad makes pointed comments about his daughter's behaviour, always alluding back to the fact that he caught her having sex. Darren and Stacy are living in the basement, desperate to move out but struggling for money and working the same job on opposite shifts so someone is always with the baby. Deanna's mum is tired and stressed out all the time, and trying (kind of) to keep the peace.
As a character, it's easy to feel for Deanna. Her home life isn't particularly happy. She dreams of moving out with Darren and Stacy, and the four of them living happily ever after together, but it's obvious that this is just a pipe dream on Deanna's part. Her two best friends, Jason and Lee, are a couple. Deanna likes Jason, and is jealous of Lee, even though Lee is by far the nicest girl she knows. Tommy is suddenly, unexpectedly back in Deanna's life, which forces her to deal with the emotions stemming from their sort-of relationship and the subsequent fallout.
If I didn't warm to the story much at first, it was because of all the different issues flying around, piling on top of one another in quick succession as the story gets established. (I was also surprised that in the first few pages, Deanna reacts to one of the idiot high school boys who taunts her about her reputation by suggesting that he's gay. So just as we're establishing - correctly - that calling Deanna a slut is wrong, we're counteracting with a bit of light using-gay-as-a-cheap-insult.) There were a lot of threads in the story that never really went as far as I felt they could: the journal that Deanna kept was interesting enough in revealing her state of mind, but it didn't really add much for me. The underlying issues that her dad was dealing with had some potential mileage in them - a lot of his anger and resentment seems tied up not only in the Deanna and Tommy debacle, but in him being laid off from his long term job, and being unable to provide properly for his family. Maybe there weren't room for those issues with this book, which is after all Deanna's story, but it added to the feeling that there was more under the surface that we never really got to.
The relationship between Deanna and her dad was particularly sad. Her dad refuses to forgive her after he finds her with Tommy, and makes snide and hurtful comments in her vicinity about her morals, her promiscuity and her behaviour. His inability to let go of this is mirrored by almost everyone in the town, exacerbating the shame inflicted on girls who have sex early, or often, or outside of acceptable relationships. Deanna's unwanted reputation seeps into every aspect of her life, and it seems like everywhere she goes, someone knows what happened with Tommy. It seemed a little heavy-handed at times, as if Deanna having sex was the only scandalous thing that ever happened in this town, but it revealed how harmful the whole culture of slut-shaming can be to girls, especially young girls.
Story of a Girl was a short read, and brought up some interesting issues. While I enjoyed it, I found I wanted more depth - the book tackles so many different things, and yet it didn't resolve a lot of things, and ends rather abruptly. While realistic that it didn't try and solve all Deanna's problems by the end, it would have been nice to see a little bit further and go a little bit deeper.
Overall rating: 6/10
Book source: Borrowed from the library.