Yakety Yaks's Reviews > Story of a Girl

Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr
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May 13, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: reviewed-by-madeleine
Read in February, 2012

I discovered Sara Zarr in 2011, and she quickly became one of my new favorite authors. Last year I read Once Was Lost, and even pre-ordered How to Save a Life. Somehow, though, I never got around to reading her first book, Story of a Girl, until I bought it on my Nook with a gift card early this year. It is a fast read, and I finished it within a few hours of picking it up. And, as I’ve come to expect with Zarr’s work, I was not disappointed.

Synopsis (from Amazon)

When she is caught in the backseat of a car with her older brother’s best friend–Deanna Lambert’s teenage life is changed forever. Struggling to overcome the lasting repercussions and the stifling role of “school slut,” she longs to escape a life defined by her past. With subtle grace, complicated wisdom and striking emotion, Story of a Girl reminds us of our human capacity for resilience, epiphany and redemption.

Riding in Cars with Boys and Bad Reputations

There is a certain strength in the female characters Zarr writes, which is one of the reasons I love her so much. Deanna Lambert is no exception. She marches across the page with a kind of grit that is simultaneously charming and worrisome. While her strength is evident in her ability to hold her head high in the face of school bullies, her vulnerability and pain come across in her longing for family, redemption, and for escape from the cruelty of being defined by an unforgiving past.

What is so refreshing about Deanna’s story is that it doesn’t come across as preachy, and it certainly isn’t a black-and-white case of wrong and right. There are a lot of questions that both the reader and Deanna have throughout. Questions like, Was it rape? Why didn’t her father beat the crap out of that kid? What actually happened? Is she really that girl? Will she let it all define her in the end?

Deanna asks these questions throughout, and she doesn’t settle too easily on any answer. Her confusion, self-doubt, determination, hope and pain give her depth that many female protagonists lack in a lot of YA fiction. She is refreshingly independent, capable of getting along just fine without some brawny guy to save her; but she’s also a little sullen, sometimes self-destructive, and makes decisions that drive over-protective adult readers (like me, for example) a little crazy.

But that’s why I love her. I believe in her and hope for her, even when she’s climbing into that boy’s car all over again.

The very interesting decision Zarr makes with this book is to showcase teenage sexuality in a way that is realistic in both a positive and negative light. Zarr isn’t preachy here, but she does examine teen sex from several different and important angles.

There is Deanna’s storyline, of course, where a very young teenage girl makes a life-changing decision that has real consequences. She doesn’t get pregnant, but she does have to live with the changes her decision has on her other relationships–namely her relationship with her father, and with herself. For Deanna, the consequences are devastating without being cliche. Sex isn’t glorified or over-simplified here. Deanna is portrayed as both a victim and a conscientious participant in an act that has lasting ramifications.

Then there is her brother, Darren, and his girlfriend, who are struggling teenage parents. They represent another angle of teenage sexuality–the one that both creates and destroys life. They face the very difficult reality of being a family, of being inexorably linked for the rest of their lives. Raising a child requires deep sacrifice–from their own plans, to their relationships with each other and their own families–but it also reveals a deeper bond of unconditional love.

Zarr also brings in the storyline of Deanna’s best friends, Lee and Jason. Deanna talks about Lee’s religious upbringing, and even admires it to some degree. Lee, whom Deanna considers beautiful and selfless and maybe a little too perfect, confides in Deanna that she’s considering having sex with Jason, even though she feels like it might be wrong. I liked this storyline because I feel it’s one that isn’t examined fairly in much YA lit. Lee is religious, but in a quiet, believable way, and her belief system prevents her from jumping into a sexual relationship without serious consideration. This storyline isn’t developed too deeply in Deanna’s story–probably because there just isn’t enough time–but it is one I’d be interested in hearing more about. Teenage abstinence, while frequently mocked or belittled by our hyper-sexual culture, is a valid and important viewpoint, and is worth examining respectfully in fictional characters as much as real-life ones.

The only aspect of Story of a Girl that prevents me from giving it a full 5 Yak Smacks is the almost too-tidy wrap up. It doesn’t come to easy conclusions, and Deanna’s development is mostly well-paced, but it seemed to move a bit too quickly once the storyline hit its climax. The resolution felt a little hurried in the end, which was out of place with the rest of the impeccably-paced story.

No matter my personal feelings on the resolution, however, this book certainly lives up to the high standards I have come to expect from Zarr. It is an important, engaging story, and, like everything Zarr writes, it is not easily left behind.

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