Friday, November 27, 2009

Book Review: Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

Title: Story of a Girl

Author: Sara Zarr

Pages: 192


When she is caught in the backseat of a car with her older brother's best friend - Deanna Lambert's teenage life is changed forever. Struggling to overcome the lasting repercussions and the stifling role of "school slut," she longs to escape a life defined by her past.

With subtle grace, complicated wisdom and striking emotion, Story of a Girl reminds us of our human capacity for resilience, epiphany and redemption.

At thirteen, Deanna is caught (by her father) in the backseat of seventeen year old Tommy's (her brother's best friend) car. Now, at sixteen, her father still can't look at her. Her brother is now living in their basement with his girlfriend and newborn baby. She has two friends in the world, and they are both dating each other. Everywhere she goes in her small California town, she is known by some degree or another. Her teenage years are ruined before they've even started, and Deanna couldn't be more miserable.

I'm not entirely sure what genre Story would be put under--there's no real plot, per say. There's no definitive beginning, middle or end (in the traditional sense, at least). It's told in a stream-of-conciousness first person narrative that somehow, by some miracle of authorism, does not come across as a selfish or self-absorbed. Not to say all first person novels are selfish. It's just that there's always a feeling that either the author or the narrator themselves believe there is absolutly nothing going on in their town then their plot and their story. While it certainly does seem as though Deanna really does believe the world revolves around her, the author--purposley or not--makes it clear that every single character has lives and personalities all to themselves, and are not just people for Deanna to bounce off of. I don't know if I'm making myself clear, but I'll put it like this: every character in Story of a Girl could easily be the protagonist of a novel of this or any genre. To me, this is a fantastic display of storytelling and a possibly where the book shines brightest. I might venture far enough to say that Story of a Girl surpases most YA books of it's genre in it's writing.

But then...Deanna happens.

Good lord, this girls annoying. When she's not making it very clear what a horrible friend she is, she's blaming every single fuck up in her life on that one day in that car with Tommy. Perhaps this is the point, to get across that to teenagers, one mistake is the end of the world, but really? Are you really telling me that every bad aspect of your life is because your dad caught you fooling around? And your telling me you don't understand how he can't even look at you after that? Yeah, that sucks, and I'd be pretty upset too, but...if I was a father (or mother) and I caught my thirteen year old daughter humping a kid four years older then her in the backseat of a Buick...yeah, I'd be pretty uncomfortable snuggling with them. Of course, three years is a bit harsh, but maybe that's just how the guy was. Zarr protrays Deanna's father as a monster of a man with zero compassion. Now, I really don't have much experience with "father figures" but I know enough to figure out that nobody's that vicious because their daughter acted like a teenager. Again, not really an expert in this field, so I could be wrong, but I highly doubt it.

Rant #2: I felt like this was intended to be a character-driven story, which is fine--but I need a little plot to hang on to, Zarr! You can't just say a girl slept with a boy and let it take off from there (okay, well, you can, but not easily). I felt like every character was cut short a little, like there was so much that could have been explored, so many bumps in different relationships that I would have so loved to have seen from beginning to end...but there wasn't. There was no real problem to begin with. For example: Deanna kisses best friend Jason, even though is has a happy relationship with other best friend Lee. There is slight tension in the "Afterwords" period--I mean, like, five seconds after the fact. She leaves. Jason and Deanna ignore each other for the duration of Lee's family camping trip. Deanna goes through this whole shtick with Jason about how she has to tell Lee, Lee values honesty and she just has to. And then Deanna is invited by none other then Lee and Jason to Taco Bell. She gathers her britches and is about to drop the egg, when she finds out...Jason already told. The day before.

And Lee forgives her.

Now, as we all know, I love the torture of my characters. I love the angst and the conflict and the general ickiness of their shit-ass lives that warrants a book to be written about them. But I feel like this was such a huge cope-out that not only does Lee forgive Deanna for making out with her boyfriend right off the bat, but there isn't even any discussion of the matter. No, "I totally don't deserve it, gurl. You should hate me" and then a "I could never hate you, girleee. We gurls!" It just didn't work for me.

But, despite all it's misgivings, all the plot holes and cheap deux ex machinas and everything I knew--intellectually knew--was bullshit...I enjoyed Story of a Girl. Nay, not just enjoyed it. I loved it. I read it in a single sitting and, when I was done, I felt the emptiness in my head where the plot had taken refuge. I missed it, you guys. I missed Deanna and Jason and Lee. I missed it like I missed Saturday Night Live this summer. I missed it like I missed middle school on my first day of ninth grade. I missed it like an old friend. I missed it, fuckme!

Maybe it's just the general relatibility that oozes from the pages. There's a certain immaturity in Deanna's voice that is, at the same time, so intelligent and self-aware that I felt like a dumbass for questioning the decisions Zarr made with her book.

I really, really didn't know what to say about Story when I started this review. I could hate it for it's general whininess factor and over exageration, or I could love it for exactly these reasons. It's a horrible cross-road that I really hate when I'm trying to write about books. But, if I'm pushing all my reviewer snobbiness aside, and just talk to ya'll like a teenage girl, I'll say this--I loved Story of a Girl, and I cannot think of one thing really wrong with it.

Rating: 8 out of 10 for pure emotional charge, but a 5 out of 10 for general Holdon Caulfield whiny angst.

Also: I was pretty reminded of another sex-related teen novel while reading Story of a Girl:

"Melinda Sordino starts high school a few weeks after she was raped at a teen drinking party. She is ostracized by everyone at school because she called the police on their party (but did not report the rape) and is almost entirely mute. The story covers her first year of school. She has emotionally distant parents, a girl she hangs out with who is not really her friend, and a crush on her lab partner. She is getting poor grades in most of her classes due to her emotional trauma, but she has a supportive art teacher. As the year goes on, through her art Melinda is able to come to terms with what happened to her."


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