‘This Girl is Different’
Author: By J.J. Johnson
List price: $9.95 paperback
Bookmarks: Three out of five
One of the most prevalent themes in modern young adult novels is the teenage rebellion against elder authority figures.
I have expressed in previous reviews I think the portrayal of “all kids good, all adults bad” theme is commonly heavy-handed and makes what could have been a more interesting plotline seem two-dimensional. Understandably, authors will write what they believe teen readers will identify with, and many teenagers feel like adults “just don’t get them” and are thus antagonistic.
Yet there is still a way to make an identifiable plot about teenagers who wish to test the constraints of society, while painting the characters, teen and adult, in their best and worst lights. “This Girl is Different,” by J.J. Johnson, is one such novel.
Evie (short for Evensong Sparkling Morningdew) has been homeschooled all of her life, but she decides she wants to attend a public high school her senior year. She is befriended by two students: socially adored cheerleader Jacinda and her reserved cousin Rajas (for whom Evie feels an instant attraction). They help her transition into public school.
It doesn’t take long, however, for Evie’s natural “anti-establishment” mentality to kick in, as she observes several “injustices” by teachers toward students, including the gym teacher confiscating her phone. Wanting to promote democracy, Evie anonymously starts a blog allowing students to voice their concerns of negative treatment by teachers. However, things begin to spiral out of control quickly, as free speech gives way to slander, her friendships begin to dissolve, and the chance for a relationship with Rajas starts to slip away. Evie begins to see sometimes the best intentions do pave the way to disaster, and she must find a way to get things back under control, with or without help.
While this novel plays on the theme of rebelling against the rules, it manages to handle all of its characters fairly, even the ones toward which the readers may have initial feelings of dislike.
Teachers stand in opposition to Evie. But some nurture Evie and allow her to explore her ideas, despite their mixed emotions about the circumstances.
Student characters do not fall into niche stereotypes. Evie is more than just a courageous radical whose unorthodox methods change everything for the better. But she stumbles, falls and feels fear and confusion. Many times her decisions are not the most effective ones. While Jacinda is a cheerleader — thus we expect a typical “mean girl” who would reject someone like Evie — she is accepting and kind, but can be vulnerable.
It’s nice to see this balance of positive and negative traits, as it makes the characters seem more human and thus readers become more invested in them.
While not a flawless story — certain events given much build-up only to be resolved abruptly, mainly by having characters change their attitudes about the given situation very quickly — “This Girl is Different” is smartly written and distinctive among the other young adult fare on the bookstore shelves.
Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.