Monday, May 07, 2007

Review: Story of a Girl

Imagine you made a mistake as a teenager. A big mistake. Now imagine you made this mistake in a small town when you were thirteen years old.

Sara Zarr's moving Story of a Girl tells just this tale from the point of view of sixteen-year-old Deanna Lambert. At age 13, Deanna was caught "in the act" with her older brother's best friend. By her father. Oh, and Deanna and the boy were in a parked car.

Small towns being what they are, it takes only a day for Deanna's story to spread throughout Pacifica. From that moment on Deanna is the "school sl*t" (despite the fact she's avoided boys since the incident) and at home life isn't much better. Dad--nearly three years later--has yet to recover from finding his daughter in a car with a seventeen-year-old boy and he barely talks to Deanna.

Story of a Girl opens on the final day of Deanna's sophomore year. She's feeling stuck--in her small town, in her reputation, and in her family. Zarr does a great job in showing the depression--economic and emotional--of a place down on its luck. Deanna's only job option is a rundown pizza joint. Her parents professional lives have been downsized--Mom working in a Mervyns and Dad in an auto parts supply store. Deanna's much-loved older brother lives in the basement with his new wife and baby. Deanna's brother and his wife work in the grocery store. With everyone working retail hours, no one is home at the same time and the house is sliding into disrepair.

Deanna dreams of escape--of saving her money and moving out with her brother and his family. But escape is hard to come by when you are sixteen and live in a small town. Instead, Deanna must come to terms with what happened and forgive herself and others. Over the course of just this one summer, Deanna, with a few mistakes along the way, finds peace with herself, her reputation, her town, and her family. It's a beautiful gem of a book, one that will stay with me forever.

Let me just add that I think the title and the cover art are so perfectly simple and evocative, they're small miracles. Deanna could be any girl, which is exactly the point.