Book Reviews: Mean Girls

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mean girls have caused a lot of problems in literature over the years. These three books have one thing in common; the main characters are frequently at the mercy of some vicious girls. In The Crucible it's teens accusing others of witchcraft, in Carrie it's high school girls picking on a misfit. Autobiography of a Face is a bit different because it's a true story and it's more about how Grealy dealt with other people's reactions to a physical disfigurement (and it was boys who did a lot of the taunting), but still, she constantly struggles to fit in and find a group of kind girls, which is apparently a rarity.

So what did I learn about mean girls? They were just as mean 400 years ago as they are now, their selfishness can be the catalyst for a lot of death (in fiction) and they are more likely to be mean if everyone else is doing it. So go be nice to someone today.

The Crucible
by Arthur Miller
Set in Salem, Mass. during the witch trials in 1692, the play demonstrates the power of a mislead crowd, personal revenge and malice. Young teenage girls are questioned about witchcraft and in their nervous fear they accuse many of the town's women of being witches. Caught up in the heat of the trials, the girls convince themselves that the accused women have actually done something to them and things spiral out of control. The leader of the hysterical girls is Abigail, who has her own reasons for orchestrating the insanity.

I didn't feel truly immersed in the play until midway through Act III. There's a moment that made my heart break for the main two characters, Protor and his wife. It reminded me of a tragic version of The Gift of the Magi. The third and fourth acts deal with the characters' motives for the decisions they make and the eternal consequences of their actions. The play feels a bit stiff in the first half, but hang in there for the final acts. It was worth it.

by Stephen King

Carrie is an odd teenage girl in the '70s. Her crazy, religious mother has warped Carrie and she is constantly persecuted at school. After an incident in the girls' locker room, Carrie begins to realize she has telekinetic abilities. The book's drama builds to prom night, when everything goes horribly wrong.

I've read some of King's short stories, but this is my first time reading of one of his novels. I was really surprised by the way he told the story. He uses sections for books, reports, testimony, etc. interspersed with individual accounts of what happened. It's based on the supposition that telekinesis can be carried as a recessive gene and can manifest itself in young teenage girls who carry it. I expected the book to have a does of horror, but I wasn't expecting the sorrow I felt for Carrie. She lives her life persecuted by her cold, crazy mother and catty high school girls. It's a heartbreaking look at the cruelty people can inflict upon each other.

Autobiography of a Face
by Lucy Grealy

At age 9 Lucy was diagnosed with a cancer of the jaw. In this nonfiction memoir she chronicles her 5-year battle with the cancer and then the years that followed, during which she has dozens of reconstructive surgeries. More than the disease though, it's about Grealy's battle with learning to accept herself and feel comfortable in her own skin. It's about the universal struggle of feeling ugly. Grealy's story is a tragic one, but it's also beautiful.

"Beauty, as defined by society at large, seemed to be only about who was best at looking like everyone else."

If you find a copy to read, make sure it includes the afterward by author Ann Patchett that was added in 2003. Patchett was one of Grealy's best friends and later wrote the book "Truth and Beauty" about their friendship. I think she sums up Grealy's book perfectly with this...

"In the right hands, a memoir is the flecks of gold panned out of a great, muddy river. A memoir is those flecks melted down into a shapeable liquid that can be molded and hammered into a single, bright band to be worn on a finger, something you could say, "Oh this, this is my life." Everyone has a muddy river, but very few have the vision, patience and talent to turn it into something beautiful."


Lilly said...

I love reading the favorite quotes selected from the books reviewed. May I request more of the same? Have a wanderful wanderlust weekend! :)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Absolutely! If anyone ever has suggestions for this blog I hope you'll tell me. Any feedback on what you do or don't like is helpful.

Jenners said...

If you haven't seen it yet, check out the movie version of "The Crucible" with Daniel Day-Lewis. I thought it was fantastic.

And "Carrie" was so much more than you think if you just see the famous scene from the movie. So disturbing.

And "Autobiography of a Face" was one of the first books I reviewed on my blog! I read it AFTER I read "Truth and Beauty." I just had to hear Lucy's story herself. what a tragic life she had.