Ursula Riggs has always been an Ugly Girl. A loner with fierce, staring eyes, Ursula has no time for petty high school stuff like friends and dating, or at least that's what she tells herself. Ursula is content with minding her own business. And she doesn't even really know Matt Donaghy.
But Ursula is the only person who knows what Matt really said that day...and she is the only one who can help him.
In her first novel for young adults, acclaimed author Joyce Carol Oates has created a provocative and unflinching story of friendship and family, and of loyalty and betrayal.
©2002 Joyce Carol Oates; (P)2002 HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
"Oates has written a fast-moving, timely, compelling story." (School Library Journal)
"Screen celebs Hilary Swank and Chad Lowe deliver alternating chapters in perfect counterpoint, superbly capturing the divergent emotional journeys in affect, tone, and pacing." (AudioFile)
"Distinguished novelist Oates' first young adult novel is a thought-provoking, character-driven drama." (Booklist)
I've secondary school for 10 years and spent time taling with hundreds of adolescents. The author really captures the voice of real teenagers, never as simple as adults think. The protaganists are complex, authentic, and well-written. The intro to the two young people really grabbed me. The narrative was very compelling.
How much can words and jokes be misinterpreted in a terrorism stricken world? How much can a family be affected by collective distrust? How can teenagers learn values such as sympathy and loyalty when adults can't set a good examples? These questions and others about school management and friendship were raised. Gender issues were also explored at length, but without stealing protagonism to the issue of bullying and finding a scapegoat for the whole community. American suburbs appear in a precarious balance between mute happiness, tinged with boredom, and hysteria.
I only wish the characters other than the bigger-than-life Ugly Girl were given more elaboration. Big Mouth could have said more about himself and his family and friends. Mothers are weak, unsteady shadows. Fathers are even more ghostly sketches. Brothers and sisters are relegated to corners and backgrounds. More confrontations would have given all of them further realism. The 2 protagonists take up virtually all the space and make the story feel slightly flat.
Having said so, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and finished it off in one sitting.
Great voices, especially Ursula.
It made me think.
Very interesting book for my students, too. Especially Ursula as a tough and at same time insecure girl might help my female students in their process of growing up.
Hilary Swank and Chad Lowe did a great job of adding depth to the characters - particularly Hilary's portrayal of a gawky, teenaged girl irritated with her parents and disenfranchised at school until she turns things around by taking the moral highground and sticking up for a classmate.
I think it's a great story particularly for those who can identify with being an outsider, which many of us are at some point in our lives but very often as a teen.
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