Sunday, 3 June 2012

Some Girls Are, Courtney Summers

Regina Afton has worked hard to get to the top of the high school hierarchy. She's sacrificed a lot: her friends, her integrity, her conscience. When an incident at a party sparks off vicious and untrue rumours, she finds herself despised and alone, learning first-hand just what it feels like to be on the receiving end of the bullying she used to help deal out.

The mean-girl drama is nothing new in teen literature. I've reviewed similar books here at the blog: Speak, Before I Fall and Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood - and, of course, the name Regina not-so-subtly recalls Mean Girls. Some Girls Are was a pretty dark version of the story, unflinching in dealing with the inventive cruelty of teenage girls. In many such stories the victim wins out with their goodness, or rise above the pettiness of their peers by discovering their inner depths. But in this novel, the bad guys getting their just desserts would not be satisfying: after all, that is what this story's all about.

Regina's been a mean girl too long. She demonstrates feelings of regret and self-loathing for the popular girl she used to be, but she has faked so much in order to fit into the inner circle that she's lost touch with her inner goodness and decency. It's in there, but buried so deep that no one can see it any more. Regina is a complex narrator, and I wasn't quite sure how to view her. I wanted to sympathise with her, but she'd done some terrible things. Did she deserve all the abuse heaped upon her? "Nobody deserves that," said Michael, the closest thing Regina has to an ally all through her ordeal. We're not shown Regina's former cruelty first-hand, and though we see the results, she holds back from telling too much about what she'd done to make two thirds of her school actively hate her. I felt that Regina was an unreliable narrator, toning down the events of the past, censoring herself so as not to utterly alienate her audience. Something didn't quite ring true between how Regina presented herself on the page, and how her classmates saw her - 300 enemies are a lot. I also wanted to shake Regina at times for walking into the mean girls' traps, and giving them power over her.

Regina is not one to take bullying lying down, and it turns into an ugly war of revenge for revenge, spiraling out of control. For me, like for Regina, it was temporarily satisfying to see the bullies getting a taste of their own medicine, but that satisfaction is quickly replaced with unease and anxiety for what would happen next. I felt sure that the situation would escalate into disaster or tragedy, because I could not see either side backing down. Ultimately, I found the conclusion hugely anticlimactic and boggled at the author's decision to end the book the way that she did. Is that it? I wondered.

It's reading books like this that I feel grateful that I was never popular at school, with fewer expectations to live up to or compromises to make. Not that I was entirely guiltless in these matters, still moderating my Katie-ness (in fact in those days I was Kathy, not Katie, a more significant thing that you might think) in an attempt not to give people within and outside my "friendship" group reasons to pick on me. But the cost of fitting into a clique such as the Fearsome Fivesome is too high to ever be worthwhile.




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