Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Not That Kind of Girl

Siobhan Vivian's Not That Kind of Girl is better than its typical teen romance cover would have you believe. Behind the kissing couple you will find a sharp and thoughtful look at sexual politics in high school.

Our protagonist is Natalie Sterling, overachiever and student council president, who hides her insecurity around boys behind a mask of toughness and indifference. Natalie considers it her duty to warn freshman about the ease and dangers of earning a bad reputation, but the current freshmen, including a lively former babysitting charge, don't seem interested in her advice.

Siobhan Vivian's feminism is on display and is a welcome addition to the YA field. She dives headfirst into the judgments that girls make about each other and the hypocrisy of the idea of the "good girl". The judging isn't only done by the students; student council adviser Ms. Bee has her own expectations of how girls should act and is blatant in her disapproval of almost everyone's choices. I saw shades of Irene Stark, the teacher from Lois Duncan's Daughters of Eve in Ms. Bee.

Natalie is desperate to be seen as mature and responsible, to the detriment of her relationship with her peers. In reality, she is a normal teenager and has a hard time reconciling her feelings for Connor, a cute football player who doesn't plan to go to college. Readers may find Natalie to be a prickly character at first. When she says things like, "I cared so much about these girls. And if I could help save them, or anyone else at school, from making a huge mistake, I gladly would," I can see why she comes off as superior to her classmates. Over the course of the novel, her awkwardness grows on the reader, and while she is no Frankie Landau-Banks, I can see Natalie going places.

The discussions of sex are frank, yet realistic, so let the reader be prepared. I loved Siobhan Vivian's message of self-acceptance, but more importantly, of accepting other girls and not judging them for being themselves. I look forward to reading more of her books, especially the recently released The List.

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