Saturday, October 9, 2010
Review: Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian
Natalie is the girl who knows what she wants: academic success, student council leadership, and avoidance of the male miscreants that run amok at her school and destroy girls’ lives with one raucous laugh and joke. Her one friend was at the receiving end of one of these boys’ cruelties in freshman year, and now, as seniors, Natalie has almost made it out home-free.
Until the entrance of two very different people into her life throws her into disarray. Spencer, her former babysitting charge, is now a one-woman force, unafraid to play up her sexuality and toy with the boys, much to Natalie’s chagrin. And Connor Hughes, quarterback and supposedly the biggest jerk of them all, surprises her with a side of him that she’s never known…and his interest in her.
Can Natalie deal with changing up her entire philosophy for success and feminism?
NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL, Siobhan Vivian’s third novel, succeeds where few other contemporary YAs do: it features a smart, determined, but not always nice or right female protagonist and a strong message of the different definitions of what female empowerment entails.
Natalie is not a straightforwardly sympathetic protagonist. She’s smart and has obviously accomplished much, yes, and her narration is delightful for the “over-read” YA reader: anguished and angsty, determined and stubborn, without being overly dramatic and annoying. However, we get the sense early on that, despite the seeming solidness of her feminist creed, she could stand to learn a lesson or two. Too often I feel like YA protagonists are always made out to either be ethically perfect in dealing with external problems, or else have an identity utterly wrapped up in a love interest. Thus, Natalie is a breath of fresh air—even if she may snap at you, and even slap you, for daring to objectify her as refreshing.
There are a gratifying number of strong females in this novel—even if not all of them are “strong” in the best ways—but Spencer is probably the most admirable character of them all. She is the type of girl Natalie fears, though for all the wrong reasons. Spencer is confident, strong-willed, feminine, and, to Natalie’s horror, not afraid to play up her feminine appeal to get her way. Spencer and Natalie come from different schools of feminism, and while there is no clear answer as to which of them is more correct—Spencer gets hurt more, but she also lives—they are excellent examples of the different manifestations of feminism…with a hearty dose of entertainment in their shenanigans and interactions, too.
NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL focuses on the feminism aspect, on what it could mean for a female to be empowered, but it’s hardly preachy, and not without a crackling romance as well (although Natalie’s interactions with Connor was something I wish had been more fleshed out). Siobhan Vivian is a strong writer with a talent for character subtleties. This is my first book of hers, but it will certainly not be my last. Don’t overlook this strong gem of a contemporary YA read!
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5
Cover discussion: 2.5 out of 5 - Sooooo generic. Would have avoided if not for the good things I heard about this book. I do like the pink accents though.
Scholastic Push / Sept. 1, 2010 / Hardcover / 304pp. / $17.99
Review copy bought.