Monday, September 19, 2011

This Girl is Different by JJ Johnson

Published April 1, 2011.

What happens when a girl, homeschooled by her counterculture mother, decides to spend her senior year in public school? First friendship, first love—and first encounters with the complexities of authority and responsibility. (

Well, this is absolutely a unique book with a take on homeschooling that doesn't veer into the weird religious road. So that was nice. But THIS GIRL IS DIFFERENT solidified my notion that I just don't like hippies. At all. Martha, Eve's mother, I wanted to beat her to death with her own Birkenstocks. I'm all for people wanting to have a self-sustaining lifestyle and all of that. I think that's fantastic. But those that don't follow it through, complain about "The Man" holding them down and then try to force themselves onto other people, effectively becoming "The Man" (see re: nonconformists conforming to the nonconformist conformity) and piece-mealing their lives to suit them bother the shit out of me. For instance they live in a self-sustaining house but Martha drives a Volkswagen micro bus. Well, they certainly cancel each other out. Or complaining about "The Man" but she doesn't have a problem actually working for one and using it as an outlet to force her ideals down others' throats. It's just a big basket of contradictions that annoyed the ever-loving hell out of me.

But remove Martha from the scene and it really isn't so bad of a story. Eve's a great character. She's strong and sticks to her laurels even though everyone, and I mean everyone, ends up against her. She doesn't waver in the slightest and that makes her such an amazing person. She's extremely intelligent and can go toe to toe with authorities in arguments with viable opinions well above what her classmates could probably offer. While I don't agree with some of her stances (like students being equal to teachers, sorry kids, school isn't a democracy, the teachers aren't your equals and they're not meant to be your friends), I could empathize with a lot of what she stood for (clean bathrooms, teachers not berating and insulting students, better food in the cafeteria, etc.). The majority of her stances weren't unreasonable but the world she grew up in was an extreme so while Eve herself isn't an extreme person, her actions leaned that way because that's how she was taught to handle them. And that came around to bite her in the ass hard.

I really liked how Rajas and Jacinda took Eve under their wing even before Eve got to school. They accepted her for who she was and defended her when she really started to open her mouth. The bounds of their friendships did get tested and both Jacinda and Rajas made themselves look exceptionally human. And I really liked that. They reacted to situations like I believe normal teenagers would react and while it didn't make them look all that great, it made me like the story even more for it's reality. These two characters hold their own.

What kind of tampered my like for the book a bit was the ending. I don't want to spoil but what I will say is that the ending is like something you'd see in your typical teen movie. It pretty much killed the reality of it for me because I felt it was a little too out there to be acceptable. That doesn't mean I didn't like it and I wasn't happy with the ending but in terms of realism, I wasn't buying it.

The main drawing point for me with THIS GIRL IS DIFFERENT is Eve. She's such a fantastic character. You can see how strong she is at the beginning, watch as she crumples under the pressure of school and then builds herself back up towards the end. While she second-guesses herself and why she decided to enter public school, she never wavers from her beliefs. She stands strong even though the entire grain is against her. Your really can't help but admire something like that. I wish more YA had characters like Eve, that show such impeccable strength of character. Granted I do think she's an anomaly. Many teenagers under her kind of duress would have caved, I believe. But she didn't. I didn't find it outside of the norm because of the way Johnson wrote Eve. Her breakdown as her world crumbled was believable enough, and her mother's insistence in staying strong was so vivid, that I could believe it. In this case, growing up so sheltered really helped Eve stay Eve.

If for nothing else, read THIS GIRL IS DIFFERENT for Eve, to read about a truly strong character walk from one end of the plank to another. It is a sweet story, if not a little unbelievable at the end. You'll find yourself taken aback at some points and rooting all of them on at others. It didn't blow my socks off, but it was good nonetheless.

Ban Factor: Medium - There's some definite disregard for authority going on in this one but I don't know if it's enough to make it onto the banners' radar. There's also some mild swearing and some light petting but it could be innocuous enough to slide by.
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