Monday, September 13, 2010

Review: Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian

The phrase "not that kind of girl" carries with it certain negative connotations. As if being that girl instantly means something bad, something slutty, something gossipy. In Siobhan Vivian's new book, Not That Kind of Girl, student council president Natalie Sterling learns there is much more to being a girl, any girl, least of all "that kind of girl" than she could ever imagine.

Natalie Sterling wants to be in control. She wants her friends to be loyal. She wants her classmates to elect her student council president. She wants to find the right guy, not the usual jerk her school has to offer. She wants a good reputation, because she believes that will lead to good things.
But life is messy, and it's very hard to be in control of it. Not when there are freshman girls running around in a pack, trying to get senior guys to sleep with them. Not when your friends have secrets they're no longer comfortable sharing. Not when the boy you once dismissed ends up
being the boy you wants to sleep with yourself - but only in secret, with nobody ever finding out.
Slut or saint? Winner or loser? Natalie is getting tired of these forced choices - and is now going to find a way to live life in the sometimes messy, sometimes wonderful in-between. 

When I first started reading this book, all I could think was, "wow, Natalie you are a bit of a prig." Way to go around with your nose in the air, thinking you are better than everyone. It was initially difficult for me to get past that attitude. However, it was balanced out with other attitudes Natalie had to hide: desperation that she was losing her only friend. Anger over how the boys at school could get away with anything while the girls were condemned to a negative reputation on the basis of gossip and whispers. She is initially unable to really reconcile her sexuality in a high school environment. Natalie sees Spencer, a new freshmen at school, and a girl Natalie used to baby-sit, as well, slutty. But on the other hand, she envies Spencer her freedom in expressing her sexuality, even if it is making her one of those girls that boys talk about in carnal terms. Natalie does not want to be anyone's object of lust and gossip but she does hunger for feeling and emotion.

Her initial remoteness can be off-putting but I do not hesitate to say, keep reading. I empathized with Natalie in so many ways because her high school experience, while not that similar to my own, carried enough attitude similarities that I could easily feel how awkward she felt being the odd girl out, being the girl who ignored popularity and her high school classmates in order to focus on a greater goal. I will be honest and say I still don't quite understand where her drive for perfection came from. Yes, her parents were very scholarly and educated, but they played such a minimal role in the book that I couldn't see the pressure for perfect achievement coming from them. It felt kind of unbelievable to me. I had to accept that Natalie herself was the catalyst for perfection.

Then, as with any good YA book, there is a boy. Connor Hughes, a football player and one of the most popular guys in school. They share a truly unexpected attraction that leads to fevered nights in his shed at home. Kisses, caresses, skin and eventually sex. Yes, sex does happen in high school and it happens in this book. I felt as if the author did a good job of building up to that point in Natalie and Connor's relationship. Unfortunately, the next day can look grim for any woman and Natalie starts to see herself, even more, as "that kind of girl."

She learns however that there are shades of gray, many shades in fact. Teachers aren't always right (I'm looking at you, Ms. Bee, who yes, I thought was a terrible person for judging Natalie), mistakes happen but it's definitely better to learn from them, and despite saying she is above believing in gossip and popularity, Natalie learns that there is a lot more to high school relationships than meets the eye. Connor is a guy and he makes mistakes along the way too but their rocky road to romance is sweet, enticing, and I thought, very healthy and realistic.

By book's end, I came away with the feeling that being "not that kind of girl" is not always a bad thing. As Natalie learns, there is a lot more to life than achieving perfection and the mistakes and differences encountered along the way make for healthy changes. I wish I could quote from one of the last chapters in the book but I don't want to ruin it for anyone. However, there is a line that sums up beautifully the changes Natalie has made for herself, and no one else. Yeah, she's not the "nice girl" anymore but she certainly fits no stereotypes of the "bad girl." She's a girl, learning as she goes along, like everyone else. I re-read many of the passages in this book to come to this conclusion because like I said, I had a hard time truly liking Natalie at first. But I came away with new feelings and revelations regarding judgments, perfection, and mistakes. I enjoyed this book immensely and while I definitely wanted to slap Natalie silly sometimes for the things she said or did, like me, she isn't perfect and I had to cut her some slack. I think this book has a lot of potential for discussions about healthy sexuality, relationships, and to a degree, feminism. Well-written and enjoyable!

ARC received from Amazon Vine.


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