Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Nobody likes a goody two-shoes

Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian (2010)

Natalie Sterling’s best friend Autumn once trusted a boy and was publicly humiliated for it, and Natalie is determined not to ever let this happen to her. She concentrates on her studies, dresses age-appropriately, and constantly reminds Autumn to stay away from the dangers of boys. Then Spencer Biddle, who Natalie used to babysit, starts at the same high school and stirs up controversy with her sexy outfits and attention-getting stunts. When Natalie tries to get her to tone down, the two clash over their very different ideas of what girl power means. Further complicating the situation, a very cute boy named Connor starts paying attention to Natalie, completely throwing her off her game.

This novel started off dubiously but I had high hopes when it started exploring feminist themes, like the ways young women express their sexuality and whether dressing sexy is oppressing or empowering. Natalie planned a girl empowerment summit/slumber party that was supposed to involve workshops on self-esteem and discussions about valuing their own accomplishments rather than what boys thought of them. It was actually kind of a cool idea, and although it ultimately failed I was briefly proud of her for putting it together.

But I couldn’t get past Natalie’s irrating personality. She is the most uptight, goody-goody, preachy, self-righteous, prudish control freak ever. She’s constantly putting her hands on her hips and telling people what to do, or why they shouldn’t do what they are doing. It’s maddening. She also has a very low opinion of all the other girls at school, dismissing them all as sluts. She’s a terrible friend, and won’t ever let Autumn forget the embarrassment she suffered so long ago. And her treatment of Connor, it pained me! She absolutely refused to publicly date him, instead sneaking around and hooking up with him at his family’s Christmas tree farm. I couldn’t understand her motivations, or how she had so much self-control she wasn’t even tempted to let loose and have fun. She can’t be human.

The only time I sympathatized with Natalie at all was on Halloween. You know, the holiday where guys dress up as scary monsters and girls dress up as hookers? Natalie went as Amelia Earhart, which is completely fabulous and more creative than Sexy Witch or Sexy Construction Worker or Sexy Sherlock Holmes. Now, I understand WHY girls use Halloween the way they do – it’s the only time this kind of outfit is sanctioned, and it’s fun to look sexy – but naïve Natalie is simply confused. She thinks the other, lesser, girls look stupid, while she is so superior walking around with a cardboard airplane strapped to her waist.

The only reason I made it through this book was Spencer Biddle. She injected a bit of perspective and humanity with her laid back sexy ways. Sure, she attracted the wrong kind of attention from boys and got herself into trouble, but the point is that she realized it wasn’t the end of the world. Her views on female sexuality were a breath of fresh air next to Natalie’s repression. I mean, I wouldn’t parade around dressed the way she did, but at least she wasn’t AFRAID of her sexuality. (Seriously, Natalie has perfected the art of changing out of her bathing suit without ever being naked. Need I say more?)

I wanted to love this book. It had such great potential, as there aren’t nearly enough young adult books that take on feminist issues so directly and Vivian’s treatment of these issues was really well done most of the time. I really liked Spencer and Autumn and Connor – and despite Natalie’s treatment of him their romance was pretty great - but Natalie was just too over the top to be real and too unlikeable of a person for me to sympathize with.

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