Review Detail3.4 7
New Girl was a fast-paced page-turner with overly-dramatic characters and a predictable ending. I found myself both unable to book this book down, while simultaneously rolling my eyes at the stereotypical teen behaviour that was portrayed. I waited in suspense to find out New Girl's name and the truth behind Becca's disappearance, and was left underwhelmed with the conclusion to both.
New Girl's entire premise is built around one big plot hole - namely the reason NG ends up at Manderly, a prestigious boarding school in New Hampshire. Having a fleeting desire to attend a boarding school after finishing the first Harry Potter book, a thirteen-year-old NG is heartbroken when she's declined admittance. Luckily for her, her loving parents continued to submit applications for the next four years, until her senior year when she's accepted. Not wanting to disappoint her parents after their hard work (and obvious expectancy that she would be thrilled with their news), NG agrees to leave sunny Florida and start her senior year of high school at a new school, away from her friends and family, for a boarding school in cold and rainy New Hampshire.
Ummm....what? First, I find it hard to believe any parent would think that the momentary desires of a thirteen-year-old would continue across several years of teenage-dom, especially when NG makes it clear that after her original disappointment at not getting in, she grew to love her normal life and forgot about any aspirations of attending a boarding school. Second, what kind of parent would willingly uproot their happily-adjusted teenage daughter during her senior year of high school, without good reason? Why risk seeing her grades plummet, or her emotional stability fluctuate due to such an extreme change in not only location, but learning environment? And third, what teenager would willingly and self-sacrificingly accept the situation without some kind of argument (most likely one involving the slamming of doors and accusations of parents that were trying to ruin her life)?
It just didn't make sense that NG's fear of disappointing her parents would overshadow her desire to finish high school with her friends before embarking on her journey to college. I feel like Harbison could have accomplished the same results with different means - maybe NG still wanted to go to boarding school, or maybe her family was being uprooted due to a parent's job and she had no choice but to switch schools. I do understand that the book is, in part, about finding your inner strength and believing in yourself when presented with huge obstacles - like being far from anything remotely familiar - and that leaving for boarding school forced NG to come to terms with believing in herself, but I think Harbison could have handled it better.
I could have overlooked this plot hole if I enjoyed everything else. Unfortunately, I also found the characters to be lacking. NG started off promising. She had the same insecurities anyone faces when starting over somewhere new, and met those insecurities head on. As the story progresses however, she made several ridiculous choices which only added to the rumours and the whispers behind her back. Like when Dana offered her her spare Halloween costume. Why would NG trust anything that Dana had to say when she had been nothing but hostile towards her from the moment she started at Manderly? And having been "warned" by Julia and Madison that the only two boys off-limits were Johnny and Max, NG obviously develops relationships with both of them. While her relationship with Johnny remained platonic, it didn't help the rumour mill that he seemed to be one of the only people she opened up to. Her relationship with Max caused her more trouble then it seemed to be worth, as every time she admitted to someone out loud that they were seeing each other (which always seemed to be at a party, in front of a group of people), he wouldn't confirm it - leaving her blushing and embarrassed in front of a crowd of onlookers who secretly (or not-so-secretly) hoped to see her fail. There was no development to their relationship, I didn't feel any chemistry between them and NG's constant self-pep-talks about how she was better then the treatment he gave her did little to foster my pity for her situation. But mostly, I just didn't understand why she chose to make things harder on herself by pursuing the ex-boyfriend of the notoriously missing "Becca".
And Becca. Ugh, she drove me insane. I almost couldn't finish the book because of her attitude. Unhappy unless she was the centre of all attention, Becca said (or did) whatever was necessary to get what she wanted. She didn't truly care for any of her friends, and saw them all as mere pawns with which she could control to get her desired outcome. She lived in constant fear of being found out as a fake, or as a loser, and had no qualms extorting the emotions of those around her in order to advance her social status.
"She felt Dana's eyes on her. She was jealous that Johnny was all about talking to Becca. And Becca couldn't help but rub it in."
But my problem wasn't so much with Becca's personality flaws as it was with how they were presented.
"Half an hour later, Becca had been flirted with by another group of guys and had her self-esteem restored."
I had Becca completely figured out within her first chapter as narrator, as Harbison took great pains to hammer home the point that Becca was a "mean girl". This left Becca devoid of complexity as I wasn't presented with the chance to watch her true self unfold - it was laid out in front of me, through the thoughts in her head. The worst part about this was how every other character seemed to recognize how horrid Becca was, yet they still put her on this pedestal and idolized her as this perfect person; the other half to the "golden couple". Her disappearance is constantly brought up, and the general consensus seems to be that Becca is merely waiting for the right moment to make her triumphant return.
"Come on," said Max. "Can you not see how this would make perfect sense to Becca? She loves having people think about her. I can completely picture her just shrugging and saying it's funny to watch everyone wonder."
By the end, it's obvious that Becca was mentally disturbed - which is a shame because she should have been a complex and compelling character! - but her final scene, in which she returns to make good on her sins, was so forced that she deflates and falls completely flat.
Another character with great promise who flickered and burnt out was Dana. Her obsession with Becca and Becca's relationship with Max was borderline psychotic - I kept waiting for NG to wake up to Dana hovering over her in her sleep with a knife of something. Having NG wake up to Dana singing "You Are My Sunshine" was so creepy, I got chills. But her emotional outlashes seemed random and forced, occurring during inappropriate moments, and her constant accusations that NG was trying to "be Becca" became annoying and always seemed to be without reason. I kept waiting for NG to ask her what it is she had done that made it seem like she was trying to be Becca, but it never happened. Dana's constant threats that Becca would return, or that Max knew more then he was letting on made a level of suspense that crested and toppled when I realized that she wasn't actually going anywhere with them.
The plot itself is well-written, and I found myself eager to find out what had happened to Becca. I looked forward to Becca's chapters, so I could uncover more behind her mysterious disappearance. Unfortunately the ending is glazed over, interrupted with a dream-like sequence that I'm still confused about. I was really hoping my predictions would be completely off-base (there was a part of me hoping NG was Becca - I don't know how it would work, but I was looking forward to finding out!) but I was spot-on which left me with an underwhelming feeling of disappointment. Now knowing NG's name, I half-wish it had been left a secret. I'm sure the revealing of her name after the closure with the ending was supposed to be symbolic of NG gaining her independence from Becca's shadow (and blah, blah, blah), and though the significance wasn't lost on me, I just didn't care.