Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Review: Those Girls by Lauren Saft (ARC)

Those Girls by Lauren Saft
Publisher: Poppy
Release Date: June 9th, 2015
Junior year, the suburbs of Philadelphia. Alex, Mollie and Veronica are those girls: they're the best of friends and the party girls of the school. But how well does everybody know them--and really, how well do they know one another? Alex is secretly in love with the boy next door and has joined a band--without telling anyone. Mollie suffers from a popular (and possibly sociopathic) boyfriend, as well as a serious mean streak. And Veronica just wants to be loved--literally, figuratively, physically....she's not particular. Will this be the year that bonds them forever....or tears them apart for good?

Lauren Saft masterfully conveys what goes on in the mind of a teenage girl, and her debut novel is raw, honest, hilarious, and thought-provoking, with a healthy dose of heart.

"To say that I enjoyed it wouldn't be entirely correct but to say that I didn't wouldn't be either. I think this book is important, and I think it's important to see some characters whose morals we can't/won't/will never agree with."

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from NOVL. This didn't affect my review in any way, nor am I being compensated for it.

I was really struggling with this book when I started reading it. I started it maybe two months before its release date, thinking that that would be more than enough time. Unfortunately, I didn't even finish half of it before its release date. The reason I was struggling was that I struggled to care about the characters. The three main characters were just such seemingly terrible people. I really only semi cared about one of their story lines, but even then, it was often weak. But then I read Grace @ Words Like Silver's post/discussion about morality in YA, tying it directly to Those Girls. And it really made me think and made me think about the book, the characters, and its importance.

As I mentioned, I really didn't like the characters and only really semi liked one for the first quarter of the novel. The girls were just horrible. To everyone. Including one another. They tore people down, used words and talked about things that I hate to read, hate to hear, etc, they seemed to have such petty problems that they brought on themselves. They drank too much, partied too much, everything too much. And I hated that because it reminded me of everything I hated about high school. It reminded me of those girls. Which is the whole point, I guess. But I was tired of it all. I was nearing graduation, when I could finally leave these people, start over, get out.

But as I made myself continue on, wanting to be able to properly take part in Grace's discussion, my opinion started changing. I still hated a lot of the things they said and did, but I started to understand the girls a little bit better. I could see Alex's insecurity within myself. I could see her missing opportunities, taking things the wrong way, and I realized that maybe I had been a bit like that too. She was the one that I identified with and cared about most in the book. I was really rooting for her. Molly, whom everyone seems to characterize as the meanest, didn't come across as mean to me as she seems to have to other people. I could see how she said things to protect herself. I hated seeing her struggle to get out of a horrible relationship. I hated seeing how much she needed someone and how much she thought she was all alone. She started to grow on me, and I came to root for her too. Veronica is the only one of the three girls I still couldn't come to like by the end. Yes, perhaps I did come to feel bad for her, but ugh, almost everything about her bothered me. Even with all of her own struggles, she's like the epitome of all those girls I couldn't stand in high school.

I find it interesting that so many people DNFed this because they couldn't find this story believable. They couldn't believe that girls would tear one another down this much. They couldn't stand that these girls were being so mean to one another--their supposed best friends! They couldn't take all the partying and the drinking and the drugs. But you know what? As much as I hate those things too, it's actually not that far of a stretch. It's actually pretty close to reality, pretty close to what those girls do. And it's funny because most of the reviewers saying the above things are adults; I think many high schoolers would agree with me. It's not that uncommon. It's not too extreme. It happens. It's reality, and it's a reality for many of those girls, or so I assume, never having been one of them. So I think it's important to not discount this book right away on those counts. I also think that that's where Grace's post on morality really came into focus for me. Just because we don't agree, just because we can't see ourselves doing all of that, doesn't mean it's not real and doesn't mean that they should be censored from the books that are published.

I definitely don't agree with the blurb that this book has "a healthy dose of heart," but I do think this book is important. Despite it being anti everything I believe in, at least on the surface, I did come to understand the girls a bit better. I could see some of my own struggles within theirs, although they aren't very similar in its causes. I saw my own insecurities and fears. I saw that maybe I had gone about things the wrong way too. I saw that the girls tearing one another down behind one another's back wasn't all that different from some of my friends. Some reviewers say they don't understand the girls backstabbing one another, and I could understand. So many of their problems stemmed from the fact that they didn't listen to one another, didn't talk to one another. They were too caught up in their own problems. But I don't know, I think many of us are like this. I think many of us don't stop to think about how we communicate with others, with our friends, too. The book made me think about how I communicate with the people I know, especially my friends. I can't imagine how many arguments and fights and horrible times could have been avoided if maybe we all stopped being so insecure and so caught up in our own head and problems and worries and started talking. The girls had so many of the same fears and insecurities but didn't realize. They didn't speak up. And I found that I identified with many of the thoughts they had about their friends and about themselves. It rang true to me. And it's both scary and important. It's important because it made me think about all of those girls that I hated, all of those girls I hated without really getting to know. Not that they would have likely wanted to get to know me and not that we had anything in common, but I think that maybe I started to see that there's more to them. It's not like I didn't think about it before, but between this book and graduation, I just stopped caring. I stopped caring about how different those girls are. I stopped caring about their partying and drinking and drugs. I stopped caring about what they thought of me. Because we all have our own problems, and it does me no good to be so caught up with them. Because I think I secretly cared more than I thought I did. Not in that I cared about them per say but in that we feed these people's popularity, and in the end, it doesn't even matter to those of us on the outside. And I think that showing their experiences are important to us too because it's important to understand them as people too. It's important to not judge them so quickly. It's important to realize that they're not anything more or less than we are. You don't have to agree with what they do to understand them on a more complex level. People aren't just their actions.

When I realized this and started to actually care about the issues and started rooting for certain characters, I found myself wanting to read more and more of the book. I wanted to know what was going to happen to the girls next. I wanted to see if everything I was hoping for would fall into place as it does with most books. And then that one thing happened, and I just felt so mad and disappointed, not only in the characters but also in the author, because I thought that the story could have ended nicely, could have ended well. I thought that the book should have ended well. And what happened also brought into question everything I had begun to think about Alex and Molly, and I just couldn't deal with what they did. Because I could excuse a lot of other stuff, but what they did was inexcusable. It's illegal and totally wrong and stupid. And if the girls just talked to each other, if Alex hadn't been so scared, if Alex had voiced her fear and her opinion on not actually wanting to do it, if Veronica and Alex just admitted stuff, if Molly had told her friends how lonely she felt, maybe things would have turned out differently. And then the ending left me feeling so conflicted. At the moment I finished the book, I couldn't believe the book just ended like that and ended on such a bad/good note. It was a good moment but still bad circumstances. And I wanted a happy ending. But I've come to realize that I love that Saft chose to end the book how she did because it shows that we have to deal with the consequences of our actions. And more than that, it shows how sometimes we stick with the people who hurt us most because there's too much history, there's too much insecurity, and there's also too much complexity--because the people who hurt us most can sometimes also be the ones we feel we need most. This was so important to me once I realized this because it summarized so much of my own experience in middle/high school. I stuck with some friends that I probably shouldn't have, that caused more harm than good for me mentally and emotionally, but I couldn't walk away, even after something bad happened (though nowhere near as bad or illegal as in Those Girls).

So when I finished the book, I had a hard time putting together my thoughts and rating the book. To say that I enjoyed it wouldn't be entirely correct but to say that I didn't wouldn't be either. I think this book is important, and I think it's important to see some characters whose morals we can't/won't/will never agree with. Because despite what some may think, such people exist and are out there, and I think we can learn from understanding their experiences and because I think this book showed me how similar we can be, even if not in the ways we can immediately identify. We're all human after all. The book does a great job of showing the thoughts of the three girls, giving us insight into how bad things start and spiral. The book rang true to me, and the truth--the reality--hidden in it surprised me in a good way.

This book certainly isn't for everyone. I understand all the people who DNF'd the book. I almost did too. But now I'm glad I read the book, if only because it really made me think, more so than I could have ever thought I would with this book.
Those Girls: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
Lauren Saft: Website | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr

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