April 30, 2015

4/22/15 - A Book Based On Its Cover

I'm using up all of my "get out of limbo free" cards, but this one was definitely worth more than the last one!

Girls Like Us was more of a wild card than Guy In Real Life. The cover isn't that descriptive, and neither is the title. I'm still trying to figure out why I picked it up. Maybe because it was small.

It is a short, tidy little book that I read in a little over an hour, all told. It is not a tidy story, as I found out, and as you can find out with a quick glance at its Goodreads description.

Quincy and Biddy are both graduates of their high school’s special ed program, but they couldn’t be more different: suspicious Quincy faces the world with her fists up, while gentle Biddy is frightened to step outside her front door. When they’re thrown together as roommates in their first "real world" apartment, it initially seems to be an uneasy fit. But as Biddy’s past resurfaces and Quincy faces a harrowing experience that no one should have to go through alone, the two of them realize that they might have more in common than they thought — and more important, that they might be able to help each other move forward.

I've never had experience with the kind of situation that Giles describes from the perspectives of Biddy and Quincy, and I don't know of any first- or secondhand knowledge that Giles might have, so I don't know how much justice she does to this kind of story. But from a purely storytelling perspective, Giles does not do too badly. There's an interesting tension between the two leads, and there are enough divergences from cliche that made me keep reading when I might have gotten bored instead. There are plenty of conversations that highlight all sorts of social issues - race, class, education, even a couple gender conversations. Nothing felt overly heavy-handed (a little bit, but not overly), and the characters are well-drawn enough to make the conversations unbiased.

What isn't balanced or well-drawn is Giles's attempts at writing voice. As other reviewers have noted, Biddy and Quincy have almost exactly the same voice, especially at the beginning, when readers have to distinguish two first-person perspectives right off the bat. It's not just that they have the same sort of thoughts, it's that they have almost the same accents. Maybe that's how it works in Texas, but it seems unlikely. It's jarring sometimes and I often had to check back to chapter headings multiple times to remember who was talking.

Another warning: there are pretty intense and explicit descriptions of and conversations about rape/sexual abuse. Seriously. Young readers and people sensitive to this should probably not read Girls Like Us.

Flaws taken into account, I did enjoy Girls Like Us. It was, for all its bleak situations and character development, an oddly charming little story about three women coming together as the kind of family they need. I do recommend it, with significant reservations.

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