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Book Review: Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

I have been wanting to read Some Girls Are for some time now because it has been recommended to me for The #SVYALit Project. And to be honest, This Is Not a Test is one of my favorite zombie books ever. So yesterday I was driving with the fam for one last summer fling and I grabbed the book on my way out the door and yep, I read it in one day because it was fantastic. I have been trying to slog my way through another book, which will remain nameless for the moment, so being excited to read Some Girls Are was just the kick in my reader pants that I needed. It hasn’t taken me a week to read a book since I was like 7 so I was getting to the point of despair.

If you want the short summation of how I feel about Some Girls Are, consider this: Last night I was half way through when my girls came into the room and turned on a shark movie. I didn’t even put the book down to watch the shark movie, I just kept reading. For those of you who have spent enough time with me, this is a really big deal. Shark movies are event tv in my house, one of our favorite things ever. But I could not – I did not want to – stop reading Some Girls Are.

The other really amazing thing about Some Girls Are is that the main character, Regina, is really a kind of horrible person – and yet you are completely sympathetic to her. 

When we first meet Regina, she is the designated driver at a party. She goes into the den to take her best friend and Queen Bee Anna home when Anna’s boyfriend, Donnie, attempts to rape her. She gets away, but this event is the beginning of her social decline because others manipulate it to their own social advantage. This is a Queen Bees and Wannabees system where the little sharks are just looking for ways to eat the bigger sharks alive and when Regina reaches out in a moment of real vulnerability and desperation, she gets bitten in the ass is some majorly disturbing ways. It turns out that Regina has been riding on the social coattails of Anna and her free ride is about to be over.

So once the major participant of some major (and majorly destructive) social destruction campaigns, Regina is now the target and it turns out she has made a lot of enemies who are delighting in her downfall.

WHORE


As I mentioned, Regina’s downfall begins when Kara twists the truth of Regina’s sexual assault as social collateral. Here is what on the outside looks to be a classic case of slut shaming, but the truth is so much worse because it is all being purposefully orchestrated by one individual to annihilate an enemy and step up the social ladder on her fallen back. It is the ultimate example of how girls are often the worst enemy of girls; instead of reaching out – or “leaning in” if you will – to help each other out, some will go to any lengths to cut a sister down to raise herself up. And the irony is, Regina, now the victim, did it first. As we learn the things that Regina did, man that girl can cut a person. It’s just all so stinking brilliant, heartbreaking but brilliant.

Regina is trying to process what happened to her and everywhere she turns that event is being used against her in horrific ways.

Also brilliant is the superb pacing the Summers brings to this story. The revelations come at just right the spots so just as you start to think, man that Regina sucks, something happens that makes you feel empathy again. And then, just as you are feeling that empathy, you are reminded of just how bitchy Regina not only was, but can be. It’s like voting for presidential candidates, you end up rooting for the lesser of two evils.

And yet, Regina also doesn’t come across as truly evil. She is conflicted. She is damaged. She feels shame and remorse, and as events unfold we come to understand that she doesn’t just feel this shame and remorse because she is now the target, but that she felt it at the time when she was engaging in social warfare as the perpetrator. Darn you Summers and your complex character development.

So, this book is basically a must read. It contains not one but two instances of sexual violence and they have important and long lasting ramifications for our main characters. But Some Girls Are is is also a really strong addition into our discussions about bullying and the social dynamics of high school, which of course mirror the social dynamics of all of life. And in this era of I don’t need feminism because back and forth that we see among women, it is also an important look at how complex the relationships among women can be and a subversive rally cry to just cut that backstabbing crap out and support one another.

Here’s the thing, two of the characters who have the most reason to hate and find glee in the social destruction of Regina end up being the only two people who help her out. This too is a brilliant part of the story because they have every reason to hate Regina, and the sometimes they give in to that temptation, but Summers injects in them the heart and soul that our story needs and reminds us all that in the midst of it all, we can choose grace and forgiveness. It’s not an easy choice for our characters, it’s not always a consistent choice, but sometimes people can rise to the occasion.

Pair this with Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver and 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

And in my new shark scale of ratings of 1 shark to a Sharknado (which is highly recommended), Some Girls Are is a Sharknado.

Book Review: This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

“This must be what Dorothy felt like, I think. Maybe. If Dorothy was six scared teenagers and Oz was hell.” (This is Not a Test, Courtney Summer.”

It is always assumed that when the zombie apocalypse happens we will do everything in our power to survive, but what if the morning all hell breaks loose, you were already planning to end it all?  That is the superbly unique premise that Courtney Summers brings to us in This is Not a Test, hands down one of the most stunning looks at the ZA I have ever read.

For Sloane Price, the end of the world happened years ago when her mother died and her father decided that her and her sister Lily would be his very own punching bags.  The morning that it happens Sloane is trying to choke down her burnt toast in complete silence in the allotted ten minutes that she has to eat breakfast.  In some ways, the zombie apocalypse brings for her a freedom that she has never known before.  And she, more than anyone, is equipped to live in a world now over run with fear.

She is a part of a group of six teens that end up making their way to the now abandoned local high school.  Here they wander the silent hallways alone, praying that the madness doesn’t break down the doors and sink their teeth into their flesh.  Except Sloane, she often wants to sleep walk into the crowd of teeming zombies, having decided a while to check out.  While everyone else is desperately trying to stay safely in, she is trying to find a way out.

Slowly, as the clock ticks, food supplies dwindle, and the somewhat safety they have come to know in this knew world shatters, they must each decide if they even want to live:  He is “made of the kind of energy people with hope have” notes our very broken Sloane of another character.  She is opposite them in every way and they don’t understand why.

This is Not a Test is a tightly coiled snake waiting to explode; 90% of the book takes place in the high school with nothing but these six characters, proverbial sitting ducks, waiting to see which group, the living or the undead, will outlast the other.  These six teens slowly peel back the layers of each others souls, taking pieces of flesh with them and wounding each other in ways far more devastating then the teeth of a zombie ever could.  And through it all, the thudding on the outside doors pulses with a frenetic energy of fear that threatens to rip through every page – until it finally does and any illusions of safety are ripped away. 

Time and time again, Sloane is forced to decide whether or not she truly wants to live.  This new world is no worse or better than her previous one, just a different version of it.  The monsters may be different, but hers has always been a world filled with monsters.  The ghosts that haunt her mind – her soul – are in some ways so much worse than the monsters waiting outside to eat her flesh. And that is the unique perspective that This is Not a Test brings to the tales of zombie lore: this is a quiet, haunting tale of how for one girl, the world didn’t really change, just the face of the monster did.

It seems weird to say, but This is Not a Test is a beautiful book; it is beautifully written with every page soiled by the pathos of a wounded soul trying to decide whether or not life is even worth fighting for.  It has a slow, languid pace of subtle tension throughout most of the pages, with sudden bursts of fierce and stunning thrills.  And like all good zombie fiction, it makes us pause to consider who the real monsters are: the zombies who have lost all self will and kill because an illness compels them to, or those who remain and are willing to sacrifice anything – or anyone – in order to survive.

I don’t even have the words, the skill, to tell you how rich and amazing this book is.  It has pitch perfect pacing, a richly oppressive atmosphere, and a heartbreaking main character that your just not sure what to hope for her. A definite 5 out of 5 stars and it goes right on my list of Top 10 Zombie books.  Buy it, read it, tell your teens to read it. (This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers is released in June 2012 by St. Martin’s Griffin)