Novel: Those Girls by Lauren Saft | Goodreads
Release Date: June 9, 2015
Publisher: Poppy (Hachette)
Some girls will always have your back, and some girls can’t help but stab you in it.
Junior year, the suburbs of Philadelphia. Alex, Mollie and Veronica are those girls: they’re the best of friends and the party girls of the school. But how well does everybody know them–and really, how well do they know one another? Alex is secretly in love with the boy next door and has joined a band–without telling anyone. Mollie suffers from a popular (and possibly sociopathic) boyfriend, as well as a serious mean streak. And Veronica just wants to be loved–literally, figuratively, physically….she’s not particular. Will this be the year that bonds them forever….or tears them apart for good?
Lauren Saft masterfully conveys what goes on in the mind of a teenage girl, and her debut novel is raw, honest, hilarious, and thought-provoking, with a healthy dose of heart.
One of my favorite books, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, focuses on characters similar to those in Those Girls. Within the first few pages, I had the eerie sense that I was reading it for the first time again – in an entirely fresh spin. This one is contemporary, with revolving point of view between three of “those” girls in high schools – the ones who throw the parties, who have sex and smoke and drink and who everyone simultaneously hates and wants to be.
The book starts out with Alex, a musician/stoner who’s picking up her best friend Mollie for the first day of junior year. When the book starts, she’s sick of hearing about Mollie’s sex life (and her own lack thereof) and struggling with her unrequited feelings towards her best friend Drew, and wondering how her decision to try out for a band on a whim will force her into situations that she wasn’t comfortable with – singing in front of people instead of her piano. When her best friend Veronica and Drew become interested in each other, she throws herself into a bit of a downward spiral and distances herself yet again.
Meanwhile, Mollie’s terrified. Of being fat, of losing Sam, of having sex as a means of gaining power over a relationship that’s spinning wildly out of control. She’s been lucky enough to be with Sam since freshman year but he doesn’t kiss her anymore – he only has sex with her – and she’ll do anything to keep him in her life even when he leers at her friends or forces her into situations she doesn’t like. Her only way of maintaining any control is to pretend like everything’s okay, to eat less, to become more obsessed with her friends’ lives.
Veronica’s the one they put down constantly – the slut. Since her parents stopped caring about her, she gets lonely. So she throws parties, so she does whatever boys want from her and don’t care when they leave her. But when she becomes interested in thoughtful, intellectual Drew, she crosses a line. A line she already crossed when she started sleeping with Mollie’s boyfriend.
Lauren Saft pulls no punches. She describes everything – never in a way that’s lurid, but in a way that makes you feel like you’re standing in the characters’ skin because their perspective is so wrapped up in the narrative. She truly embodies each voice in a way that’s distinct and challenges your point of view on specific events over and over and over again.
The writing itself is character-centric: she barely describes places or provides imagery but weaves the story through the constant inner monologue and stress of each girl. I felt like I was reading a journal – a raunchy, biting, sarcastic journal. They’ll spend pages mulling over one issue but it doesn’t get dry. It truly hones in on the issues that are overpowering their entire lives in waves of insecurity.
There are a lot of secondary plot points that could have been explored, but it didn’t feel underdeveloped. It felt like there was a lot of possibility lingering, unfinished stories that wavered the way that they do in real life. Secondary characters contributed to the background vibrancy – Josh, the lovable younger brother, Drew, the kid who’d been best friends with Alex for years and liked to get stoned in her driveway, Fernando, the Hispanic kid who had tender feelings towards Alex but never quite understood her.
In one way, you’re rooting for all the characters and in the other, you’re hating everything they stand for and how they treat each other. This book is provocative in the sense that I almost felt guilty for reading it. It’s filled with sex, drugs, alcohol, swearing, questionable morals, and blurred lines. And yet – I thought it was brilliant.
At its most sensational, this is a lot of what high school entails. While several of the situations might not have been considered realistic, the emotions behind them were. I saw pieces of truth through the girls’ inability to recognize what was considered sexual violence, where they needed to reach out to each other instead of being self-centered, when the point of no return was when it related to relationships, being physical, and maintaining separate identities.
Granted, I’m not a part of the scene that thrives on events like those in this book but I recognize it all. I recognize the daily struggles of Veronica, Molly, and Alex as similar to girls I know. “Those” girls. And that familiarity – coupled with awe and horror depending on the scene – made me sit down and devour the book in a few hours.
While not all teenagers are this dramatized, hateful, or sexual (thank goodness), the points that Saft made in her swift declarations were spot on. Her characterization was flawless. I did find myself rooting for each girl in different ways despite the terrible things they did to one another. I think Saft took a lot of risks and not all of them paid off, but I was happy with how it challenged me and the fact that it made me uncomfortable.
I can see this not being a book for everyone – if you have to like your narrator, this isn’t one for you. If you can’t handle slut-shaming within a book, considering the perspective, it’s not for you. If your characters have to fit with your morals, it’s not the book for you. It was definitely a book for me. It was thrilling. It made me think.