This Girl is Different by J.J. Johnson Book Review

This Girl is Different by J.J. Johnson
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Release Date: April 1, 2011

Having been raised by her counter-culture hippy mother, Evie decides to trade in her comfortable homeschooling life for a senior year in a local public school. It's kind of a social experiment, to see if she can enact change, however Evie isn't exactly a social change pro and she soon learns that sometimes social justice isn't as easy as just pointing out perceived wrongs.

This is one of those reviews that I had to sit on for a couple days, because I had a rather strong negative reaction to this story and it took me a bit to sort out why I took such umbridge with it. I have come up with three things.

1. Homeschooling As a former homeschooler, I am immediately on guard when homeschool characters are introduced into a story. Although it was refreshing to see a character who wasn't homeschooled for religious reasons, there was still the usual trope of a person who doesn't have any friends and no one knows them. Evie has lived in their house for nearly two years, yet no kid in their small town has ever seen her and until now, Evie has never shown the least bit of interest in developing interpersonal relationships with her peers. Evie believes that if public school doesn't work out, she can just go back to homeschooling, no harm no foul. The principle informs her that her record at public school will follow her. Not true. She doesn't have to mention on her college application that she ever went to a public school, especially if she only attended for a few weeks or months. What is the college going to do? Send queries to every public and private school in every city she has ever lived in order to make sure that she never went to school? I can tell you, getting into college after being homeschooled wasn't exactly a walk in the park. (my school was a little less accepting of homeschoolers), however they never, not once asked if I ever spent time at a public high school.

2. Self Righteous Attitude Evie is a know it all. She is well-educated and has been raised to believe that her thoughts, feelings, and opinions are always right. Her mother encourages her to create social change at her new school, but like most teenagers, Evie doesn't know how to wield this so-called power. Evie argues with her teachers, which was sometimes awesome and sometimes downright rude. Her propensity toward social anarachy never took into consideration that she, Evie, could possibly be wrong. I was happy to see that Evie's attempts at social change come back to bite her in the butt, but I never felt like she learned her lesson. In the end she apologizes and thanks to more of her wonderful ideas, manages to fix things.

Perhaps I am old, but the truly wise character in this whole mess was the principal. This poor man has to deal with this idiot of a girl who thinks that in a few short months or a year she will completely change the public education system and the best way to do that is to teach disrespect, disorder, and anonymous backstabbing. He has the patience of a saint, but I would have expelled her. She caused massive disruption at the school. Although some things should have been brought to light, she did it in a way that was both chaotic and even cruel. Her need for social justice was greater than her friendships or their feelings. Was Evie humbled by any of this? No. There were no truly long-term consequences. She quickly forgives her friends who were viciously terrible to her (ie not good friends), her college placement is fine, and her desire for social justice no matter what is just as strong.

Disclaimer: I am not against social justice and bringing important issues to light. I am against people who do not think about the logical ramifications to the things they do and how it will affect others. Evie does these things out of selfishness and a need to create change, but she does not consider the people she affects with her actions.

3. First Names and Parents How many people do you know who call their parents by their first names? I know one. In my entire thirty-two years of being alive, I am familiar with one family (a cousin) who called their parents by their first names. Yet, in teen fiction this is becoming a regular occurance. I am assuming that the logic behind this is that the parents and/or teen is just so cool that they call their parents by their first name as an outward sign of their awesomeness. Subconsciously I think it is an adult author's way of giving parents more of a personality beyond mom and dad. After all, they have names too, right? Yeah, except that for a kid, mom and dad (or some variation thereof) is their name. Evie called her mother Martha, and for reasons that make no sense, rarely clarifies that Matha=mother to the new people in her life. The only time I find the first-name thing acceptable is when dealing with step-parents and adoption/foster care or when it is important to the story like in Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. I know this seems petty, but it drove me nuts throughout the entire book.

The book is not badly written in the slightest. The pacing is fine, but I had issues with the main character and her attitude. I understand the desire to sometimes tell off a teacher, to call out those who are doing something wrong, and to want better food in the cafeteria. The truth is though that sometimes you just have to go to the principle and tell them what is going on in an open and honest way that is both constructive and respectful. And if you hate the cafeteria food, pack your own lunch.