Saturday, 2 October 2010

Review - Not That Kind of Girl / Siobhan Vivian

Natalie Sterling wants to be in control. She wants her friends to be loyal. She wants her classmates to elect her student council president. She wants to find the right guy, not the usual jerk her school has to offer. She wants a good reputation, because she believes that will lead to good things.
But life is messy, and it's very hard to be in control of it. Not when there are freshman girls running around in a pack, trying to get senior guys to sleep with them. Not when your friends have secrets they're no longer comfortable sharing. Not when the boy you once dismissed ends up being the boy you want to sleep with yourself - but only in secret, with nobody ever finding out.

Slut or saint? Winner or loser? Natalie is getting tired of these forced choices - and is now going to find a way to live life in the sometimes messy, sometimes wonderful in-between. Goodreads.

Review - Siobhan Vivian has constructed a novel that possesses a message about feminism without making it implicit. The fact that the book has been released with a heavy emphasis on the romance shows what the publisher believes it the selling point is. I would query that romance is barely a factor. The protagonist, Natalie, is such a goal orientated, controlling and intense personality that her dalliance at no point felt like it should be branded as a cookie-cutter romance type of story. It is much more important than that.

Pricking is as prickly does and Vivian has delved into the psyche of a girl who genuinely has socialisation issues. She's vaguely tolerant of her classmates, completely intolerant of those who fail to share her perspective but it all comes from an authentic place. Natalie's dialogue, her choices, her reasoning, her stilted and not entirely whole hearted attempts to remedy aspects of her life are pointed, and at time alienating. She's comfortable with herself, it's just everyone else who is a problem - she can't control them.

Natalie's immovability is contrasted greatly by the appearance of Spencer. Whereas Natalie has attempted to raise her profile (and pad her college applications) with school sanctioned, faculty endorsed activities, Spencer's chosen a distinctly different path. In gaining social visibility and wielding her feminine wiles, Spencer uses her sexuality (and all that entails) with the subtlety of Lady Gaga's costuming. Yet these girls are very similar - they successful manage others using their emotions as a foothold, remain stubbornly convinced their way is right and possess the intelligence and strength to lead. If only their goals were less self-serving....

The use of Mrs Bee as an adult presence added a welcome layer of complexity. That this teacher with so much knowledge, experience and influence would place undue (but well intentioned) pressure on all facets of Natalie's life was frustrating. Her motives were pure but in placing unrealistic expectations on this girl (who already does this to herself), she failed to remember what being a teen is about...making mistakes, finding yourself and not allowing someone else to dictate that for you.

In terms of the relationship, it was curious to see a girl act from a place of logic instead of hormones. It's a rare occurrence in YA as protagonists, like the characters in this book, are often categorised as saints or sluts. Vivian explores the unfairness of both labels and all the grey that exists in between. Logic definitely plays a part in terms of the budding relationship that forms between Natalie and the guy, lust too. Love isn't that much of a factor. Vivian's choices with the boy (yes, I am being deliberately vague) are curious as they can play indistinctly making the audience waver between believing him to be genuinely interested or using her for ulterior motives. It is this relationship that forms that allows Vivian the chance to explore the contrasting elements of girl’s friendships and that of guys. The male species don't get much in depth attention within Not That Kind of Girl but a conversation between Natalie and the guy highlights how complex girls are and how simple guys are in their dealings with one another.

What is of most interest in all the elements and levels of feminism, labelling and sexuality that are represented and communicated within this title. High school is all about labels, as is life. But learning about the grey is where life's surprises come and this is where Natalie learns more about herself, her choices and those around her. They grey area is a place where Vivian loves to play and her writing makes it a place that breathes, grumbles and chortles with life, laughter, lust and love.

Not That Kind of Girl is a book that readers need to buy and read on multiple occasions. Certain to grace the Persnickety Snark best of 2010 list, it is refreshing, honest and wonderfully conceived. It's a keeper, folks.

Published: September 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Publisher: Push
Source: purchased
Origin: USA


April (BooksandWine) said...

Feminism you say? Count me in. I just got a book by this author, Same Difference. I'm also curious to check out Not That Kind of Girl Now.

Can I just say amen to logic in a relationship. For realz.

Ovrelia said...

Thank you for the superb review! Natalie sounds like a very interesting character. I moved up Not That Kind of Girl in my TBR list.

Robby said...

Definately one of my favorite books of the year also.

Melissa Walker said...

So glad you liked it--one of my favorites of the year too!

Michelle said...

You make an excellent point about how the romance took a back seat to the feminist aspects. This book was far more about empowerment than girl meets boy and falls in love. That Natalie did find it showed her ability to not only be the person she wanted to be but also someone new. She was able to be open to sharing herself but it wasn't her life's goal.

I enjoyed this book a great deal.