It’s an eventful year for Frankie: she starts a new school (the formerly all-boys St. Seb’s, at which girls are welcome officially if not in practice), her normally outgoing mother becomes so depressed she won’t get out of bed, and… y’know, boy stuff. It’s YA, after all.
At first I thought it was going to be a book about Frankie convincing her parents to let her go back to her old school, Stella’s, or growing in strength in the painful anti-feminist environment of St. Sebastian’s. But it turns out that her mother was right, she was being stifled by the Stella girls, and she actually blossoms at St. Seb’s. It’s fairly rare in YA that the parents turn out to be right about issues of personal growth, and I found it refreshing.
My favorite part of the book is Francesca’s growing relationship with the boys of St. Seb’s. In late high school I hung out with a lot of boys in exactly this way: we didn’t have deep-and-meaningfuls or see each other on the weekends, but we spent long hours shooting the shit during free periods. These relationships provided drama-free companionship, as well as the all-important honing of my crude joke and insult skills, which serve me well to this day.
I’m making this book sound lighter than it is. Frankie’s mom’s depression is serious and scary and not handled lightly at all, and it pushed the hell out of my buttons. I hope this is not too personal, but this story perfectly gets at one of the reasons I don’t want kids. Frankie writes about depression as the potential for illness lurking inside her, and as happy as I am most of the time, it’s inside me, too. There are days — once a year or less, but still — when I curl up into a catatonic ball, and if I had kids and a co-parent relying on me? That’s scary and not okay. I appreciated seeing depression dealt with in a way that isn’t neatly resolved.
Also reviewed by: author Maggie Stiefvater at YA Reads (Maggie overemphasizes the angst, so I figure that compensates for my overemphasis of the lightness); Misrule: The Home of Australian Children’s Books Online; and Not Enough Bookshelves, which sets up a fascinating UK/US Cover War.
(Neither are the cover I had. I think I like the UK cover better than the one I read, and I definitely like it better than the US cover, which is too cute and flip. This is the sort of “slice of life” book that benefits, I think, from the dreaded “photograph of a pretty white girl” cover. Many of my students gravitate to those covers above all else, because they tend to signify “realistic fiction with some humor and romance and school drama” — all of which does indeed describe Francesca. It has so much going on that no one cover will “cover” everything, but the UK cover would at least draw in the sort of readers who will like it.)