I won this book through the GR first reads program -- very exciting, the first time I've won one of these! And it arrived pretty quickly, too, which wI won this book through the GR first reads program -- very exciting, the first time I've won one of these! And it arrived pretty quickly, too, which was nice because I needed to read it, review it, and pack it up to move to a new address next week....
This book is the story of Maria, the new girl in a crappy school who was expelled from a fancy Catholic school and is taking that expulsion -- or, more to the point, the horrible things people said to her when she was expelled -- as evidence that she's worthless and unlovable. We don't actually find out why she hit her teacher; Maria doesn't seem to be a very physical person and she never looks like she's restraining any violent urges in this book, even when (view spoiler)[one of her classmates pushes her down a flight of stairs (hide spoiler)]. She has a paranoid outside's perspective on people that lets her spot the worst in everyone and a cynicism which she expresses by pointing out what she sees, at least until she strikes up a friendship with Yusuke, who manages to be peppy and cheerful and simultaneously more cynical and more hopeful that Maria ever thought to be: Maria: I've been told that I taint people. So I shouldn't hide how tainted I am. It wouldn't be fair. Yusuke: But no one cares about that. Even if you're really horrible inside, who wants to see it? Everything in the world is better if you frame it right -- your clothes, your makeup, your room, even your lunch. The same goes for getting along with people.
And so, in the face of some vicious bullying by her new classmates, Maria decides to give herself one last chance to be "saved" by trying out Yusuke's approach of putting a lovely spin on everything. (view spoiler)[And slowly, over the course of the book, she discovers that she doesn't actually hate everyone in the world, even when she sees their flaws! (hide spoiler)] She even strikes up a budding romance with Yusuke's best friend Shin. This is book 1 of 13, so I imagine things are not going to go smoothly from now on, though.
The most interesting thing about Maria, to me, was how focused on herself she is -- in a good, healthy way, I think. She's not trying to be friends with the popular girls or date the popular boys for their own sake; what she wants is to be able to love herself, and she knows that she needs help from other people to learn how to do it. For a lot of teen stories, triumph is either becoming popular or rejecting popularity in favor of something better, and that doesn't seem like it's going to be Maria's story (although, interestingly, it may be Yusuke's).["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more