Natalie Sterling wants to be in control. She wants her friends to be loyal. She wants her classmates to elect her student council president. She wants to find the right guy, not the usual jerk her school has to offer. She wants a good reputation, because she believes that will lead to good things. But life is messy, and it’s very hard to be in control of it. Not when there are freshman girls running around in a pack, trying to get senior guys to sleep with them. Not when your friends have secrets they’re no longer comfortable sharing. Not when the boy you once dismissed ends up being the boy you want to sleep with yourself – but only in secret, with nobody ever finding out. Slut or saint? Winner or loser? Natalie is getting tired of these forced choices – and is now going to find a way to live life in the sometimes messy, sometimes wonderful in-between.
Painting people into camps is really easy to do: either they’re good or bad, respected or mocked, smart or silly. For Natalie, high school – and life – is a pretty simple game of either-or. And she knows what she is: she’s a senior. She’s student council president. She’s going places. There’s no room for the other side, and definitely no room for the myriad shades of gray that make up the vast middle. Not That Kind of Girl opens up with Natalie recounting a story that’s become legend at her private school, Ross Academy.
It’s a story about a freshman girl who started dating a senior boy, and when she wasn’t ready for anything too physical, he ruined her reputation, and changed her life. Natalie uses that true story as one of the reasons why she has chosen to just opt out completely. After all, if she doesn’t play the game, there’s no chance at losing it. And she’s got her eye on the future – even if that means missing out on some of the present. Natalie’s steadfast resolve is threatened by the new crop of freshmen girls, though, who are led by her former babysitting charge. Spencer is brazen, overtly sexual, and totally in charge of her life. But when her antics get her in trouble, Natalie decides to take her under her wing and show her – and the rest of the so-called Rosstitutes – what self respect means. Natalie was sure she was going to teach the freshman girls a thing or two about how to thrive at Ross Academy, and how to rise above the misogyny and sexism that run rampant through the hallways. But instead, they start teaching her lessons – the hard way.
Throw in a deep attraction to one of the very boys Natalie is railing against, and you’ve got yourself a classic high school story with a feminist twist. I loved this book. Siobhan Vivian is a master at the contemporary high school scene (see her other works, like Same Difference, to understand) and this latest release – due out in September – further demonstrates her skills at depicting the ins and outs, the blacks, whites, and grays of teenage life. I’ve been Natalie – in both the good and the bad ways – and I was pleasantly surprised to see how she grew and changed throughout the story. Her thinking about high school relationships feels simplistic but is actually quite nuanced, and the differences between her and Spencer, and her and her best friend, illustrate how complicated male-female dynamics are, especially in a contemporary high school, where the playing field is never level and the responses are never entirely fair.
The supporting cast of characters feel like they were hand-picked from my own high school memories: the entitled, demeaning jock; the young teacher eager to leave her mark; the best friend who turns out to be different from what you thought. And I found myself gripped by the fast-moving plot, which spanned a year in the life of Ross Academy. There are no mermaids or sirens, vampires or ghosts in this book. What there is is a striking, gorgeous high school reality – straight up and dirty. Embrace it.
Publication date: September 1, 2010
Teaser quote: “I had expected Mike Domski to retaliate for Friday’s pizza incident, of course. I knew he’d want to embarrass me like I’d embarrassed him. But his attack was worse than any grease stain. It was degrading.”