Girl Defective by Simmone Howell Book Review

Girl Defective by Simmone Howell
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 2, 2014

Skylark Martin, Sky for short, lives with her father and little brother in a vintage record shop and is trying to find her place in the world. Her younger brother, Gully, who wears a pig nose that their absent mother sent him, is destined to be a private eye. He is determined to find the guy who threw a brick through the store window even if he recklessly puts everyone else in danger. Her friend Nancy, a few years older and completely unreliable, always has interesting advice for Sky, but it isn't always the best advice. Then there is tragi-hot Luke, her dad's newest employee and brother to the recently dead Mia Casey. Sky isn't like her mom or her dad or Nancy, but finding who she really is isn't as easy as everyone makes it look.

This isn't my usual book fare, but something about the cover and the title really drew me in. It's not that I always judge books by their covers, but sometimes it is the thing that make you pick up a book.  A cross between Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist and Empire Records, Girl Defective is a nice blend of coming of age novel and musical review. There is a tad bit of crazy mixed in too.

In the beginning, Sky is a pretty vanilla character. Her interests are those of the people around her. She keeps her mother's things, not because she likes them, but as a way of staying connected to her. Because her dad loves music, she loves music, quoting him when she needs a good opinion. Her friend Nancy easily sways Sky to drink, party, and even do drugs, and Sky envies Nancy's free ways. At no point does Sky struggle over the morality of what she is doing, only pondering where her part in all this is. For Sky, this story is her awakening, that moment where a person begins to discover who they are outside of their family and friends.

Although I really like this aspect of the story, because I can relate to the struggle of having to find yourself, free from your familiar bonds and peer pressure, the book was ponderously slow at times. The only thing interesting about Luke is his dead sister, which is a shame, because there was so much potential in a character like that. Since we are never given more than a glimpse into his previous life or even the person he is now, he just remains the mystery boy with a dead sister. Nancy would be interesting too if she weren't so damned mysterious. I kept waiting for us to find out something about her, for her to reveal something to Sky, but she never really does. She is a stranger in the night, passing through, convincing everyone she can that she is happy and okay. Sky sees through this facade, but all I could imagine for Nancy's future is that she will wind up dead in the water just like Luke's sister. There is no future for Nancy and there doesn't seem to be a past for her either.

Sky's younger brother Gully was perhaps the most interesting character. Fearless, strong-willed, and persistent, I kind of wish this had been Gully's story. I wanted to know what he was thinking, why he was so driven to find vandals, and why he quit talking at one point. From the beginning, I thought that Gully was probably autistic with his obsession with routine, lists, detective work, and lack of social cues. I could be wrong, but that is definitely how it felt.

In the end, this was a book with a compelling narrator, but lacked a good throughline or focus. There was some exceptional bits of writing and I was intrigued enough to read to the end, but sadly it was not memorable or groundbreaking and left me feeling like there should have been more. More plot, more characterization, more music, and more resolution.