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Monday, July 11, 2011

Review and Digressions: This Girl Is Different

Johnson, J.J. This Girl Is Different. Peachtree, 2011 (978-1-45145-578-2)
(gr. 7-12) Evie has been homeschooled all her life, but decides that she is interested in attending school for her senior year, just to experience it before she heads off to Cornell to study Urban Planning (with a concentration in Social Justice). She gets more than she bargained for. Having a crush and then falling in love do a number on her self-confident, independent spirit at times. Well-educated in the balance of power and its misuse, she finds the strictures and rules of school, along with the inequality and disrespect, difficult to swallow. Her attempts to address these wrongs end up backfiring, putting in jeopardy nearly everything she values.

Evie’s voice is engaging, she is a likeable character, trying to balance her own strong values, opinions and education with the new information coming in. She has believable prejudices and preconceptions, even though she tries not to. But she is also admirable in her ability to examine them and move on. Her two new friends help her to do that.

Coming from a family that homeschools, I notice a few things about every novel I’ve read about kids who home school, and this one certainly falls into that category. Somehow, despite the fact that most of these books include characters who are fascinating, interesting, and attractively true-to-themselves, the kids don’t seem to have any sort of social life beyond their families. Before she goes to school, Evie has a mom, an uncle, and…that’s about it. No family friends. No yoga classmates, even though she is adept at yoga. No email correspondents from previous homes. This irritates me, since every homeschooling family I know is deeply involved in one community or another, and kids have strong relationships with other kids.

My daughters both enjoyed this book, though another point of irritation for both of them is how often books about homeschoolers portray them as being completely off-the-wall, from very alternative families. Sure, we know our share of very unusual kids who homeschool, and some of them come from families that are pretty far from mainstream. And to be fair, it is a non-mainstream practice, homeschooling. But most homeschoolers—families and kids—are more regular. You can find another un-schooler's reaction to the book here. This frustration with the book was mitigated slightly for my daughters by the facts that Evie’s mother works at Wal-Mart (though this didn’t ring completely true for me), and Evie is likeable, smart, and believable.

There is a lot of discussion about the importance of writing authentically, particularly in multicultural circles and the disability community. Someone from a community, or with a deep tie to it, is much more likely to be able to get it right when it comes to the feel, the details. I am more aware than ever of the importance of this when I read a book about a character who is part of a community I am part of, myself. Another example: when I read the novel Good Enough, by Paula Yoo, I was astonished at the number accurate details about being a serious violinist (I’m not one, but my oldest daughter is), and wasn't surprised to find out that the author herself is a violist. If I Stay, which has several unbelievable details about being a dedicated student cellist rubbed me the wrong way all the way through, even though it was extremely well- reviewed and got much more attention than Good Enough did. It distracted me from the main plot. I notice this when reading about homeschoolers, now, too.

I wonder about all the inaccurate details in books where I don’t have an inside scoop. Literature is a way to explore things outside ourselves, both as writers and as readers. But shouldn’t research be part of that exploration? And shouldn’t research include meeting some real people who are part of the community you are trying to incorporate into your work? Is research enough? Maybe. Or maybe not, maybe you have a different take on this.

Overall, I recommend this book, even though it inspired such a lengthy rant on my part. It is interesting, very readable, has romance, relationships, and plenty of page-turning plot. And, as you can clearly see, it was thought-provoking, at least for me!

1 comment:

  1. I've noticed this in books with homeschooled characters as well - one of my pet peeves is the number of kids who are raised as hippies. Seriously outdated! Even in my family, which was frankly pretty weird and rather isolated, I spent quite a bit of time with librarians, people from church, working, classes with other kids, piano lessons, etc.

    Jennifer @ JeanLittleLibrary