stars cats, rounded up just to make myself feel better about giving so many two- stars cats lately. as though that’s my fault.
Girl, Interrupted . . . as written by V. C. Andrews.
that’s what they told me this would be. which is a fantastic hook, if only it were true. it’s not untrue, it is just a very surface-comparison. and this book is all surface. it presents itself as being composed of all good things:
boarding school novel?? yes, please
girls gone wild?? yes, please
and yet, once you start looking under the hood, the parts are all plasticky and corroded.
it starts out great – we have a hardcore last-chance boarding school for bad girls whose parents are at their wit’s end and have shipped them off to hidden oaks – a school with a reputation for reforming even the worst troublemakers into refined young ladies. it’s a spectrum of troubled girls – criminals, self-harmers, girls with eating disorders and the sexually promiscuous, or those who may have attractions their parents find unseemly. the only unifying trait is that these girls are here, involuntarily, for a minimum of eighteen months.
the freshman orientation process begins with a stripping of distractions – the new girls are isolated from the outside world by taking their cell phones and all of their possessions, monitoring what correspondence they get to see coming from the outside, limiting their ability to contact the outside world, and forbidding them from discussing their pasts, including the reason they were sent away. the normal restrictions apply – they are made to wear uniforms, forbidden make-up, hair dye, contact lenses, there are cameras in all of the rooms, and they are required to attend therapy sessions and classes both academic and etiquette-based. but hidden oaks goes even further, taking the girls who are on meds off of them, except in life-threatening cases. this is the first hint that we are in crazytown.
“Most of you have been informed that you’re chemically depressed. For a minority of you, this might actually be the case. The rest of you have been misdiagnosed. What you are is negatively minded, which is not the same as chemical depression. You are dishonest with your most basic self. Once we refocus your mind, these depressive symptoms should subside.
We will not accept self-pathologizing as an excuse for bad behavior. If you get an F on an essay because it isn’t finished, do not claim you have attention deficit disorder. You got an F because you didn’t work long enough or hard enough. Due to chronic overuse, we will not be prescribing any attention-focusing medications. None.”
the girls are further isolated by the staff’s practice of putting them through a series of prisoner’s dilemma-style psychological exercises, pitting them against each other, where they are secretly monitored for their individual capacity for socialization, and which naturally results in exclusion and feelings of betrayal and victimization through the ranks, which is pretty much what you don’t want to be setting loose into an environment of delinquents. the girls are also punished with solitary confinement, or being locked in the walk-in freezer for infractions, and sometimes girls who have misbehaved just … vanish.
the girls who make it through this orientation period are allowed to join the greater population of the school as “gold threads.” those who are deemed unfit are known as “purple threads,” and their situation is pretty similar to what Lord of the Flies devolved into, with fewer bonfires.
i was still on board at this point. it was unrealistic as hell, but it was funrealistic, where you’re meeting all the bad girls and getting the lay of the land, enjoying the “us vs. them” dynamic, and wondering what fresh hells will emerge from this horrific situation. i liked the characters, and their skirting of the rules, meeting late at night in a treehouse to share their pasts and form the “coven,” which should have been a cool girlgang sisterhood situation.
but there were little things that nagged at me – at first, just the lack of details. angela’s boyfriend trevor, who is pretty much responsible for her getting sent to hidden oaks is a cipher, to the extent that for a long time, i didn’t believe he really existed. (he does.) for all this being a story about girls who have had shady pasts, we don’t really get much of angela’s past at all. we get the incident that got her sent here, but as far as her relationship with trevor, with her family, we basically just get an outline. we learn that her cousin is also somewhere at the school, but even that fact will only come back when it is needed to drive the plot, and the nature of her relationship with her cousin just isn’t there.
like i said, this book is all surface, all superficial. and then it goes off the rails into the kind of unreality that is insulting, and no longer fun.
because as much fun as the purple thread girls’ completely unsupervised domain of violent bullying and unwashed freedom is in theory, even the most accommodating reader in terms of “suspension of disbelief” and grains of salt-having can’t possibly accept this.View Spoiler »these girls are going to age out someday, aren’t they?? cultivating dangerous girls to ensure the necessity of the school only works until they turn eighteen, right? presumably some purple thread girls have gone back home?? and what – none of them ever said anything? none of them had serious injuries even their distracted parents couldn’t ignore?? i mean, a girl DIED! angela’s cousin dies, and while it earns angela a visit from her mother, she’s still willing to leave her there based on some stranger’s assessment? « Hide Spoiler crazytown. this school would have been shut down in like a year. and i know this is just a silly YA book, but it’s worth noting that even in a silly YA book, this could have been addressed instead of just assuming the reader will accept this as “it’s just a book, don’t be so critical.” because while it’s harder to explain the whys and hows, it can be done, and it would have been a much stronger book that acknowledged the likely consequences instead of assuming the audience wouldn’t ask these very basic questions. and angela’s falling for the ONLY guy in the book in her age range is lame. we don’t need a romance subplot here, and it feels tacked on and unimaginative and that this is what happens when boys write books about girls. and good lord, the staff here. it’s all so black-and-white, good-and-evil. soooooo much unmitigated evil, you can practically hear the mustaches twirling. and mr. derrian – he’s a good guy View Spoiler »except for that pesky statutory rape thingie « Hide Spoiler but he’s been keeping his mouth shut because tenure?? and really, what did the thing that happened when hidden oaks was a boys’ school really have to do with anything, even leaving aside the silliness and convenience of having a box of evidence just happen to be sitting in an otherwise empty attic? it contributed nothing to the story of angela and the girls except View Spoiler »ventilation is important « Hide Spoiler. and while i understand View Spoiler »that the banging on the pipe was how angela discovered the purple thread girls and their steampipe travels, we never do learn who was doing the banging, or what their purpose was, since they can’t have known the layout of the dorms, or that someone “safe” would hear and investigate « Hide Spoiler. and WORST OF ALL, the ending – View Spoiler »angela escapes, leaving everyone behind, there’s an investigation and media coverage and testimony given, and she just swans back a month later (WHY ARE THE OTHER GIRLS STILL THERE AFTER THE SCHOOL WAS EXPOSED???) holding harrison’s hand and bearing a bag of toiletries?? and angela “nearly cried” when she first looked in the mirror after her ordeal but a daylong trip to the mall with the money my mom had wired had fixed all of that. really?? it fixed all of that??? did it fix your cousin being dead??? did you really just make everything all better with makeup and hair dye, eliot schrefer?? have you ever met a girl? « Hide Spoiler and THAT, my friends, is what dropped this from a 3 to a 2.5.
and to whomever ripped out pages 75-76 and pages 223-224 in my library copy of this book, I HOPE YOU’RE REAL PROUD OF YOURSELF!