I don’t think you even need to be into reading to notice the trend in books being published as of late: books with “girl” in the title, AKA “girl” books. It’s an epidemic. I was at The Strand the other day browsing the new releases and noticed 5 stacks of “girl” books on one side of the table alone. Publishers are going crazy for girls.
That was the theme for my most recently-finished trio: Book #34 was Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman; book #35 was Girl Unbroken by Regina Calcaterra; and book #36 was How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran. They were all incredible books and solidified my belief that, really, girls are the only ones worth reading about. The literature of the past was making a huge mistake.
Girls on Fire just came out, and it’s Robin Wasserman’s debut adult novel. This book followed two new friends, Hannah Dexter and Lacey Champlain, who initially connect and bond over one of their fellow classmate’s purported suicide in the woods that Halloween. They’re in a small town, where things like teen suicide just don’t happen, and the book takes place in the early ’90s, amidst the tense and thinly veiled fear of Satanism taking over the youth of America.
Hannah Dexter is the “good girl” in the friendship between Hannah and Lacey; Lacey comes from a rocky background of neglect and abuse. She latches on to Hannah, whom she calls “Dex” instead, and the two spend their time abusing substances and deepening their friendship to obsessive and unhealthy levels.
This novel is pretty terrifying. It effectively encompasses the urgent teenage feeling that nothing will ever matter as much as what’s happening right now with alternating perspectives (labeled “Us” and “Them”) and fast-paced twists and turns. No one is exactly who they project, and the book culminates in a violent moment of truth back in the woods where it all started. I highly recommend this book; it reminded me of that movie, Heathers, with Winona Ryder; if you like the way that movie went from 0 to 100, you’ll probably like this book.
Next was Girl Unbroken by Regina Calcaterra and her sister, Rosie Maloney. This book was a follow-up to Regina’s bestselling memoir, Etched in Sand, which I actually haven’t read yet. The two sisters grew up with three other siblings and a horribly abusive, neglectful mother. All five children came from different men, and they were treated worse than animals more often than not.
In that way, I found this story to be heavy to the point of pain; there is so much abuse (physical, verbal, sexual) that these kids are forced to withstand that it becomes numbing after a few hundred pages. This story focuses on Rosie, the youngest of the siblings.
After Regina and her two older sisters are placed in safe foster homes, Rosie and her brother Norm are faced with either growing up in a horrible foster home (where they’re locked in their rooms from 8PM – 6AM, forced to use a bucket for the bathroom during those hours) or rejoining their mother and her abuse and addictions. The choice is never really theirs, and it’s made for them when their mother smuggles them away, out of New York, and across the country to Idaho.
Rosie’s resilience throughout her childhood is incredible. She went through more in the first 11 years of her life than I would wish on anyone to go through in an entire lifetime, and I’m sure the book hardly scratched the surface of the day-to-day abuse, sadly. While the story is hard to read sometimes, the happy moments (going to school, forming deep friendships, her first crush) shine through to make it more bearable. In the end, it’s a story of hope, redemption, and the importance of family.
And then: How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran. I LOVED this book and already want to reread it. I cannot recommend this one highly enough, and I’m late to the party so I’m pretty bitter at everyone who has read this already and didn’t talk about it non-stop. I LOVED this book.
It was like Almost Famous told from the perspective of a Nick Hornby character if said Nick Hornby character was raised by a potty-mouthed, drunken Matt Berninger meets a poor Phil Dunphy. That was an uncomfortable amount of referencing, but basically I feel that a character this perfect doesn’t come along too often, and I’m never going to forget Johanna Morrigan/Dolly Wilde.
The book is about aforementioned Johanna, and the reader meets her as an overweight 14-year-old with a dark sense of humor. She reaches a turning point in her life when she embarrasses herself horribly on a TV news show that’s distributed widely throughout the Midlands region where she lives with her parents and four siblings. After the unfortunate incident, Johanna focuses on how to become someone else.
She starts going by Dolly Wilde, writing music reviews for a music magazine called D&ME, partying, and sleeping with everyone in sight. She is her own biggest fan, her reviews become cynical, her sex not enjoyable, her relationships unmanageable. She once again reaches a point of nonrecognition with herself, and that’s what this book is about. It was so beautiful and funny and sad and touching and relatable and believable and heartwarming and I never want to stop talking about it.
I’ll cut myself off but I really could go on forever, because I LOVED THIS BOOK. Did I mention that? Everyone should read it. And everyone should continue writing “girl” books, because girls are killing it. ◊