Saturday, August 06, 2011

Book Review: This Girl is Different

Book: This Girl is Different
Author: J.J. Johnson
Published: 2011
Source: Review copy from publisher, via

After eleven years of homeschooling, Evie is looking forward to spending her senior year in a typical public high school. When she meets Jacinda and her gorgeous cousin Rajas just before the first day of school, she’s even more sure that she’s going to love it.

When she gets to school, however, Evie is troubled by the various social inequities that she sees all around her. When a teacher publicly humiliates a student, Evie decides it’s time to do what she’s been taught all her life and speak out. But what started out with pure intentions quickly spirals into a seething mess of hurt feelings and anonymous bullying that ultimately shreds her friendship with Jacinda and her fledgling relationship with Rajas.

Evie wanted to change the world, but never like this.

This girl is different, and so is this book. I went in expecting a wacky tale of a hippie fish out of water that ultimately makes everybody see how wrong they are and clasp hands around the flagpole singing "Kumbaya." Luckily, that wasn't the case. The one who learns and changes the most is Evie herself as she learns that her idealism doesn't really allow for the shades of grey that exist in the real world.

Except in the case of Evie’s mother (a rather standard-issue anti-corporate, anti-authoritarian type) Johnson handily gives the stereotypes a miss and surrounds Evie with complicated people colored in shades of gray. Jacinda is a cheerleader, occasionally ditzy, and involved but she’s also sweet, compassionate. Rajas is cute, charming, but doesn’t want to “label” their relationship, a tendency that sets off my alarm bells. These shades of grey mean that when they learn and change as well, it's more satisfying.

Even the villains aren’t as terribly villainous as they seem at first glance. Johnson scores points with me by not making the school principal an opponent, but a compassionate adult who sympathizes with Evie’s feelings while trying to educate her about the consequences associated with taking a stand, and how facing up to those is as much an act of social activism as taking that stand in the first place.

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