[This Post Contains Spoilers]
So last night I stayed up waaay past my bedtime to finish Not That Kind Of Girl by Siobhan Vivian and it reminded me why I don’t normally read young adult novels set in high school. The entire time I am was reading, I was stressed out about what was going to happen next, but not in the same way any other book would. No, this was different–it was the same stress I remember feeling walking through the halls of my high school. So in that sense, this book perfectly captures that horrible feeling of being in high school.
But aside from forcing my suppressed feeling about my own high school experience to resurface, Not That Kind of Girl takes on and challenges the idea that women who are in control of their sexuality are “sluts”.
Natalie Sterling is the straight-laced student body president and completely unconcerned with teenage sexuality. She is more concerned with the SATs and college than having a boyfriend, especially after her best friend, Autumn, is forced to endure the nickname “Fish Sticks” after a horrible rumor from her freshman year continues to haunt her. But when the sexually explicit freshman, Spencer, starts causing trouble for Natalie, and Connor, the football team’s quite and reserved quarterback, starts paying her more attention than usual, Natalie if forced to reevaluate what kind of girl she is and what kind of girl she wants to be.
I don’t want to give any more than that away because this book was a very fun, very quick read and giving away everything would take all the fun out of it.
My favorite thing about this book was the change in me, the reader, that I didn’t see coming. For the first half, I was 100% behind Natalie. Boys are jerks and high school is for getting good grades and getting out. But at one point, when Natalie was acting so closed-minded, it hit me that she wasn’t as perfect as she, or even I, thought she was. I saw a lot of myself in this character, or maybe I just wanted to, because I was definitely not as well-behaved as she was my first three years of high school. But that flaw, and her (and my) later realization of that flaw, made for very realistic character growth, especially for a 17-year-old girl.
I also liked how the sort-of love story progresses, with Natalie exploring new territory in herself while constantly fighting it along the way. She puts herself in situations that could lead to sexual activity, seems okay with it as long as it remains a secret, and then pushes back, keeping Connor at an emotional distance. I was surprised by this, and by her choices, considering the fact that most girls wouldn’t go as far as she does without more of an emotional attachment. But I don’t think this book was about emotional attachment.
Sure, the feelings of possible love are included to keep things heartfelt, but in the end, the sex is just sex and that’s kind of the message of the book. Oddly enough, the hyper-sexual Spencer is at one point a voice of reason, preaching that girls should be in charge of their sexuality and use it to get what they want. But of course, sh takes it too far, makes bad choices, and ends up punished in the end in a way that is fitting, but also not deserved at all. But that’s life, right?
I don’t really have too many complaints about this book. The writing was clear and smooth, very easy to get through. The characters and high school setting felt very authentic. I guess, overall, the story itself was good, but a bit generic. This isn’t a book I’ll keep on my shelf to re-read.
In terms of my thesis, I think it’s a healthy dose of high school reality that I may have been missing. The hardest part about writing a YA piece set in a high school is remembering what being in high school was actually like. Not everyone is a stereotype, and not every decision is easy to make, nor is it even clear which decision is the right one. And no one faces situations with a level head in high school, no one. Everyone is clouded with hormones and believe that this is the end-all, be-all of life, which us *ahem* worldly College kids know isn’t the case. And I think that is something I have to remember when going through and editing my thesis.
So out of Not That Kind of Girl, I got a fun read and (fictional) reality check.