I read Sara Zarr's Story of a Girl in one sitting, unable to put it down. The cover is absolutely perfect, and had me wanting to read the book for months. After seeing the cover picture and reading the book, I feel like I know this girl, even though we don't have very much in common (and even though she's technically fictional).
Story of a Girl is about 16-year-old Deanna Lambert, branded as a slut at home and in school because of an incident that happened when she was thirteen. Her father caught her having sex in a Buick with the seventeen-year-old (now former) best friend of her older brother Darren. Although Deanna hasn't gone on so much as a date since that fateful night, her reputation in her small town is sealed. Tommy, the 17-year-old, immediately started telling stories about what happened, stories that have become more exaggerated over the intervening three years.
As a result of the reputation-defining incident, Deanna is treated disrespectfully by the boys at school, and kept at a distance by her still-uncomprehending father. Things at home are tense, especially given the presence of 20-year-old Darren's girlfriend and baby daughter. Here's a passage in which Deanna arrives home:
"I stood outside the front door for my usual count of ten before walking inside. One, two ... don't notice how the garage door doesn't hang straight ... three, four, five ... forget about the broken flowerpot that's been in a heap on the lawn since last summer ... six, seven ... it's okay, everyone leaves their Christmas lights up all year ... eight ... the front porch is a fine place for a collection of soggy cardboard boxes ... nine ... oh, forget it, just turn the knob and go in already." (Page 11)
Deanna's life is gray and hopeless, and her family members all struggle with dead-end jobs and disappointed expectations. She's the family's last hope, but also the one who let them all down when she was thirteen. Later in the book, she describes another entrance into the house:
"I got out of the car and followed him into the house: just a building I lived in while waiting for something real to happen." (Page 59)
It's heartbreaking. Fortunately, she has two loyal friends: her longtime best friend Jason and a newer friend named Lee. Less fortunately, and despite Deanna's crush on Jason, Jason and Lee are dating, leaving Deanna a bit of a third wheel. Here's a passage that defines Deanna's relationship with Jason:
"Jason and I are okay without talking. That's how you know you really trust someone, I think; when you don't have to talk all the time to make sure they still like you or prove that you have interesting stuff to say. I could spend all day with him and not say a word." (Page 8)
Deanna is a clearly drawn, sympathetic character, a girl trying to bounce back from a serious error in judgment, and desperate to escape from her small town life. Her relationships with her family members and her two friends are complex, realistic, and sometimes surprising. Even Tommy, who could have been a caricature of evil, has hidden depths. Even the baby has a personality.
Story of a Girl also carries a strong sense of place, from the fog-shrouded streets to the defeated family home to a grimy pizzeria. The town of Pacifica, CA is almost a character in the novel (the first time I've said this since reviewing A Room on Lorelei Street). I feel like I've been there now.
Overall, I think that Story of a Girl is a beautifully written coming of age novel, one that deals with difficult issues in a sensitive, non-exploitative manner. Highly recommended for high school students and adults. I also think that it would make an excellent discussion book between parents and teens, boys or girls.
Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers
Publication Date: January 2007
Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher
Awards: This book is a 2007 National Book Award finalist for young people's literature
Other Blog Reviews: Young Adult Book Reviews, Big A little a, Kelly Fineman
Author Interviews: The Eagle and Child, Interactive Reader, Big A little a
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.