Thursday, November 06, 2008
weekly book review: story of a girl, by sara zarr
"I was thirteen when my dad caught me with Tommy Webber in the back of Tommy's Buick, parked next to the old Chart House down in Montara at eleven o'clock on a Tuesday night. Tommy was seventeen and the supposed friend of my brother, Darren.

I didn't love him.

I'm not sure I even liked him."
Deanna Lambert is widely regarded as the town slut, a distinction awarded to her after her father caught her in the act of having sex, and her partner then decided to publicly tout the experience as a badge of honor. Nevermind that Tommy was her first and only sexual encounter, the story of what she had done, how she was discovered, and the age gap between her and her partner proved enough to destroy her reputation in a sleepy little town where there's little else to discuss and whose memory is long. There's nothing else that Deanna would prefer than to take back what she did, to have had the confidence and the maturity to have not given into the pressuring of an older boy, but it's too late, the deed is done, and as a result she seems to have forever lost the respect of her peers and, most devastatingly, of her father.

I've recently been on a bit of a young adult literature kick - good research for the young adult novel that I'm somehow going to write this month - and although young adult novels can be a bit of a crapshoot, I'm pleased to say that Zarr's Story of a Girl was a true gem. The characters are vivid, complex and totally realistic, especially the protagonist, who hates Tommy for what he did to her, yet still can't help but be attracted to him all the same. For his part, Tommy is like so many teenage boys who pressure younger girls for sex: idiotic, but not necessarily evil, and burdened with his own confusing set of emotions.

And while it certainly is an interesting character study, the biggest thing that Zarr's novel has going for it is the weightiness and import of its subject matter. With teens becoming sexually active at younger and younger ages, it becomes increasingly important for them to see what the consequences of sexual activity can be, and not just the larger consequences like pregnancy or STDs. What too many kids don't seem to realize until it's too late is the emotional and social toll that sex can take on someone who simply isn't mature enough yet to handle it.

Ultimately, Story of a Girl is the story of how the decisions we make follow us, and how our missteps can, unfortunately, come to define us. This a lesson that I see too many young adults learn the hard way, making Story of a Girl a very worthwhile read for any teen.

Story of a Girl
Sara Zarr
192 pages, 2007

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