Thursday, 16 August 2018

#CBR10 Book 58: "Not That Kind of Girl" by Siobhan Vivian

Page count: 338 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Natalie Stirling wants her senior year to be perfect. She wants to be elected student council president and feels the weight of responsibility on her shoulders to do the best job possible. She also believes herself to be feminist and supportive of her fellow female schoolmates, but when a group of freshman girls, led by Spencer Biddle, a girl Natalie once used to babysit, starts running around, encouraging senior guys to sleep with them, Natalie's carefully laid plans for the school year start to unravel.

While Natalie tries to take Spencer under her wing and show her "the error of her ways", she begins to lose touch with her bestie of several years. Natalie is also extremely concerned with her reputation, so when she starts having pants feelings for Connor Hughes, one of the most popular guys in school, she's not averse to hooking up with him, but only if they do it in secret, keeping their relationship hidden from everyone else in school.

This was one of the books recommended on FYA's "25 Swoony YA Books for Your Next Beach Vacation". Now, I wasn't going on any kind of beach vacation, but we had a heck of a heatwave here this summer, and I am extremely romance of all kinds. When it came to this book, the FYA reviewer certainly rated it highly, and while I can't deny that there really was a fair bit of swoon in the relationship between Natalie and Connor, I kept being annoyed with Natalie and very quickly felt bad for Connor about being treated as a dirty secret and having to meet up in a shed in the woods, far away from gossip or prying eyes. The fact that Natalie, even when she started having actual feelings for Connor beyond lust, was so concerned about her pristine reputation that she refused to acknowledge him in public made the whole thing less swoony.

As far as I can tell, Ms Vivian wants to explore young female sexuality in its various permutations and the various ways in which young women in high school can be viewed by their peers, not to mention parents and staff. The book starts with Natalie recounting the story of a girl whose reputation was completely ruined because a guy she was dating spread false information about her, making the girl a victim of bullying and more or less a social pariah. We find out quickly that this is Natalie's best friend. Natalie seems to think that the only way to retain a spotless reputation is to avoid boys altogether and judges those of her female schoolmates who seem interested in boys, dating and sex very harshly. Hence the complete secrecy when she herself starts feeling lustful, because Natalie is nothing if not hypocritical.

The flipside to Natalie is Spencer Biddle, who is completely unashamed about her wants, needs and sexuality. She dresses provocatively, she tries to get older guys to sleep with her and doesn't see this as anything wrong or worthy of judgement. She flirts a lot and many fellow students and the faculty at the school clearly find her behaviour inappropriate. There's a whole lot of slut shaming going on.

Towards the very end of the book, nearly in the final pages, Ms Vivian finally has Natalie start coming to some much needed and hard earned realisations about herself and her previously narrow minded opinions. The problem is that this is too little, too late, and the overall message of the book, which I think Vivian wants to be "young women should be in control of their own sexuality and no one has the right to judge them or abuse them because of it" never comes across as clearly as it should.

That Natalie is pretty much a grade A b*tch for most of the book doesn't help. She starts out as prudish and judgemental and proud of it, and is so very self-righteously pleased with herself that she's protected her best friend, while clearly rather disapproving and outraged that her friend was weak enough to fall for a guy who in turn took advantage of her and ruined her reputation. She's very holier than thou and as previously mentioned, not very supportive of her fellow lady students. Even when she starts to soften and change, I didn't like her much.

Connor, the guy she starts fooling around with, is one of the most popular guys in school, but unlike a lot of the other popular kids, he's clearly a genuinely nice guy and I felt bad at the way Natalie treated him. He deserved a lot better.

I'd read six books on the list before this summer (and liked all of them a lot - hence I decided to work my way through as many of the rest as possible). Of the eight books I read from this list over the summer so far, this was by far my least favourite. I enjoyed the supporting characters, but with Natalie being such a downer, this book was only ok, nothing more.

Judging a book by its cover: I don't know why, but the strange closeup of these two young people (I bet the cover models aren't actually teenagers, just like any cast member on the CW who plays a teen) about to kiss makes me slightly uncomfortable. As I have mentioned before, while I accept clinch covers and embraces on romances, I really don't want to deal with people full on kissing, and I think this gets just close enough to cross the border into what I don't want to deal with.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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