Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review: This Girl is Different by J.J. Johnson

Evie is different. Not just her upbringing - though that's certainly been unusual - but also her mindset. She's smart, independent, confident, opinionated, and ready to take on a new challenge: The Institution of School.

It doesn't take this homeschooled kid long to discover that high school is a whole new world, and not in the way she expected. It's also a social minefield, and Evie finds herself confronting new problems at every turn, failing to follow or even understand the rules, and proposing solutions that aren't welcome or accepted.

Not one to sit idly by, Evie sets out to make changes. Big changes. The movement she starts takes off, but before she realizes what's happening, her plan spirals out of control, forcing her to come to terms with a world she is only just beginning to comprehend.

JJ Johnson's powerful debut novel will enthrall readers as it challenges assumptions about friendship, rules, boundaries, and power. (Summary from Goodreads)

This Girl is Different is a light but thought-provoking read with a unique main character you can't help but fall in love with!

Evie has been homeschooled all her life, raised by her free-spirited, idealistic mother. When she decides to enrol in high school - or as Martha calls it, The Institute of School - for her final year, Evie is hopeful and excited. Especially with the idea of spending time with her new friends, bubbly cheerleader Jacinda and gorgeous Rajas. From day one however, Evie is shocked by the accepted norms of school life, especially the seemingly unfair power that teachers wield over students. When her petitions for change are dismissed - by teachers and students alike - and after witnessing the bullying of a student by a teacher, Evie and Jacinda decide to incite change by starting a blog, the People's Lightning to Undermine the True Oppression (PLUTOs), where such transgressions are publicly and anonymously posted. What may have began with good intentions soon explodes out of Evie's control, testing her beliefs and friendships, and possibly costing her more than she could have ever expected.

Without a doubt, the best thing about This Girl is Different is Evie - this girl IS different! I LOVED her! From page one she had me laughing and thinking. I'm inspired by her confidence and wish I had known someone like her in high school. Heck, I wish I knew someone like her now! I really enjoyed however that despite her maturity and knowledge, Evie still had a lot to learn. Her upbringing and learning - travelling the world, extensive wider reading, living in a sustainable geodesic dome - separates her from the average teenager, but she's so sure of and in herself that at times she has trouble realising real world - especially high school - situations are not as perfect as theory. There were a few situations where I was literally cringing on Evie's behalf, knowing as I did what the outcome could be. Still I kept hoping that Evie wouldn't be seriously changed by her experiences, that she'd be successful. I always wanted her to remain different and embrace it!

A strength of Johnson's book is her characters, the majority of whom I really liked. While they were a tad stereotypical, it worked. I definitely recognised a few of them from my high school days! Despite being entirely annoyed with Jacinda at times, I felt for her. My heart broke along with her and Evie's and all I wanted was for them to understand each other. Rajas was a little different in that I just could not bring myself to trust him. I have no idea where it came from. I liked him and I truly adored the connection he had with Evie, the way he just understood her. But I could not get over my mistrust of him, even as I was cheering his and Evie's relationship...or trying to use my Kindle as a fan to cool off after some of their more steamy interactions! Whoo, baby!

Of the adults, Evie's principal, Dr. Folger, was my favourite. I appreciated his trusting of Evie, and indeed his treating her like an equal. Many times I found myself nodding along to his dialogue, willing Evie to listen. I felt like I was in his position - I understood what Evie wanted to achieve and I wanted her to do so, but I could also see how she could lose control of it all. Evie's mother, Martha, was exactly what I expected - free-spirited, a little quirky, a lot of fun. I was slightly disappointed with her relationship with Evie, as it didn't feel as close knit as I think Johnson may have intended. While Martha pushed Evie to make her own decisions and go for it, which is great, she never actually accomplished being supportive or sympathetic. Certainly it didn't effect Evie, but I would've liked to see more feeling in their relationship.

Another strength of This Girl is Different is the layout of the book. Each chapter began with a quote from a notable person in history, and they really set the tone of the story. I also enjoyed the inclusion of letters, student council minutes, and blog posts. These were much more interesting and effective than paragraphs simply outlining what was happening. They provided an insight, and even humour, that really helped to move the plot. Johnson gains points for nailing high school and it's students to a T, ensuring many laugh out loud moments, snorts, and rolled eyes. For what is in a lot of ways a light and fun read, Johnson hits upon quite a few deep subjects, including bullying by both students and teachers, and inappropriate teacher/student relationships. I do feel they were only just touched upon however, as the consequences of these situations were never really looked at in depth. At the least though they make one think about it. In the end, This Girl is Different is entirely Evie's story - and what a story it is. I could not put it down and finished it in one sitting!

J.J. Johnson has created a truly unique and wonderful character in Evie, and you will fall in love with her and her story. This girl is different.


Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Published date: 1 April 2011
Format: e-Galley from NetGalley

Many thanks to Peachtree Publishers and NetGalley.

Challenge: 2011 Debut Author Challenge; 2011 YA Contemporary Challenge


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