Lucky Girl is an unflinching exploration of beauty, self-worth, and sexual assault, from the author of the acclaimed Tease. Rosie is a beautiful girl—and it’s always been enough. Boys crush on her, men stare at her, girls (begrudgingly) admire her. She’s lucky and she knows it. But it’s the start of a new school year and she begins to realize that she wants to be more. Namely, she’s determined to be better to her best friend, Maddie, who’s just back from a summer program abroad having totally blossomed into her own looks. Rosie isn’t thrilled when Maddie connects with a football player who Rosie was hooking up with—but if it makes her friend happy, she’s prepared to get over it. Plus, someone even more interesting has moved to town: Alex, who became semifamous after he stopped a classmate from carrying out a shooting rampage at his old high school. Rosie is drawn to Alex in a way she’s never experienced before—and she is surprised to discover that, unlike every other guy, he seems to see more to her than her beauty. Then at a party one night, in the midst of a devastating storm, something happens that tears apart Rosie’s life and sets her on a journey of self-discovery that forces her to face uncomfortable truths about reputation, identity, and what it means to be a true friend.
Girls like Rosie often occupy the “best friend” role in YA novels. You know, the ridiculously pretty, clever, boy-crazy girls. Girls like her best friend Maddie, newly returned from a summer in Spain with new confidence and a new look, are usually the narrators. Maciel makes an old story feel new again just by switching the POV from the most obvious choice to one of the characters usually left in a supporting role. Give me more boy-crazy (or girl-crazy or just plain relationship-crazy) girls as narrators!
Lucky Girl is especially subtle with its message about sexual assault, using a light touch to make the reader think about less obvious facets of rape culture. In particular, it got me thinking about how girls learn to gaslight themselves in the event of an assault. When Maddie’s new boyfriend/Rosie’s former hookup Cory tries to rape Rosie at a party while both are drunk, Rosie immediately blames herself and says she didn’t fight him off.
Except she did fight him off. She bit his arm and tried to push him away, but she still blames herself for flirting with Cory. She didn’t really do that either. All the questions people ask of sexual abuse/assault victims like “what were they wearing?” and “did they lead the person on?” and “did you fight back?” get internalized as we grow up and we ask ourselves these questions when it happens to us even if we think we know better. Whether we were in a thousand layers or completely naked, whether we never even talked to the person or decided at any point during the encounter to withdraw our consent, whether we fought back or not–WE ARE NOT TO BLAME.
It takes most of the novel for Rosie to make Maddie listen to her side of the story, but once she does, Maddie realizes how bad of a friend she’d been by refusing to hear Rosie’s side and throws all of her support behind Rosie. In fact, it’s Maddie who calls what happened what it is: assault. At no point before then did Rosie think of Cory’s actions as such. If something ever happens to us, having someone with Maddie’s tenacity on our side would be a dream.
Maybe the novel made me think this way because I’ve been immersed in feminist activism for close to half my life, but the point remains: though Rosie changes as a person, the book isn’t about how the events change Rosie. It’s about how the way we question the veracity of sexual abuse/assault victims can be as damaging as the event itself.
What Left Me Wanting:
Lucky Girl‘s one flaw is how it feels aimless at times. Though Rosie is an interesting, sympathetic character, her progress as a character only kicks into gear when she makes Maddie listen to her side of what happened at the party. Until then, it’s a lot of Rosie being miserable, missing her friends, and slowly getting closer to her love interest Alex. It turns into less of an issue if you care about her enough, but you may get distracted by plot threads about how Rosie’s love interest stopped a school shooting and a piece of the town being destroyed by a tornado.
Tease showed off her promise as a writer, but Lucky Girl is a true show of Maciel’s gift for writing lifelike characters and making readers ask questions they never considered before. If there are more YA novels coming from her in the future, I’m all in!
*often-told story feels unique
*subtle, nuanced handling of subject matter
*makes readers ask themselves new questions