Tuesday, January 11, 2011
This Girl Is Different: JJ Johnson
I requested This Girl Is Different from Peachtree Publishers because the storyline caught my attention. A home-schooled girl transitions to public high school for her senior year, and confronts the "normal" firsts all at once--romance, friendship, responsibility. I'm always fascinated by stories that reflect our culture back at us, which is exactly what JJ Johnson does in this novel.
Evie isn't like other girls. This girl is different. She has been home-schooled by a counter-culture hippie mom--Martha-- who has dedicated Evie's education to challenging the social standards. Evie decides that for her final year of high school, she wants to enter into the public high school as a kind of social experiment. With plans of going to Cornell to study urban design, Evie is curious to know how the reality of high school will live up to the movies she's seen. However, Evie is still just a teenage girl, and after her run-in with Rajas and Jacinda she is swept up in what it means to be an average teenager, with a boyfriend and a best friend. In the first weeks of school, Jacinda and Rajas are by her side, helping her adjust to a whole new set of rules. It doesn't take long for Evie to recognize that injustices are rampant at the Institution of School. The trio of friends devise a plan to give students a voice to speak out against their oppressive teachers, citing their First Amendment right to free speech. As you can probably guess, things quickly spiral out of control and Evie is soon faced with possibly the largest lesson she never would have learned without her high school experience; free speech has no value if the speaker doesn't take responsibility for the things they say.
My favorite thing about this novel was the use of quotes at the heading of every chapter. Emma Goldman, Mahatma Gandhi, Bill Bryson, and many many more lend thoughtful statements to help guide the reader to ideals and theories highlighted in Johnson's novel. This Girl Is Different focuses on very relevant issues regarding American freedoms and how our educational system exposes our young citizens to their rights. In a time when bullying has become deadly, Johnson has written a novel about how harshly the First Amendment can hurt our peers.
My second favorite thing is Evie. Evie is a wonderful character. She is so smart, independent, and caring that I want to be her friend. I love that she's this brilliant home-schooled kid who goes through the transition to become a (somewhat) typical high school teen with raging hormones and a sense of righteousness. She isn't perfect, and that's what makes her so great. Evie makes mistakes and she learns life lessons so that the reader can actually watch her grow as an individual. The characters of Rajas and Jacinda aren't quite as developed, but this isn't their story, so it's kind of okay. The story isn't even really about Evie; she's an illustration of millions of people all over the world. Because aside from just being a story about a smart teenager, angry about the enforced authority of high school, This Girl Is Different also takes on the very heavy topic of bullying. Johnson dates this novel with references to Glee and Avatar, but the theme of high school bullying is--unfortunately-- timeless.