Today is the book birthday for GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE, the wonderful new young adult novel by Paula Stokes from Harper Teen. (Advanced Reader Copy provided by the author.) It’s never too late to catch up on your Paula Stokes reading. We have an interview with her about her 2014 release THE ART OF LAINEY or you can check out Paula’s Facebook, Twitter or Website.
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So why do I say this book is wonderful? It’s layered. With GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE, Paula Stokes gives us a sporty girl book featuring tennis, a romance based on friendship, and a deeply serious look at mental illness.
Maguire has been through a lot in her young life. In her early teens her father, uncle and brother were killed in a car accident while she walked away without a scratch. Later, a roller coaster careened off the tracks and again she was fine in the midst of suffering. But when her candle set the neighbor’s home on fire things became all to clear for Maguire. She was bad luck, cursed. Her very presence was sure to injure others. At least that’s what she believes. In order to control her world she does safety checks, avoids public transportation, won’t drive with others and hides away from others. It’s not until she meets a wonderful behavioral therapist that things start to change for her.
Maguire’s concrete desire drives the plot and keeps the reader squarely in Maguire’s court. “I want to see where my dad grew up, see my grandma again, meet all my relatives” (Stokes, 28.) The problem? Grandma is in Ireland and Maguire is sure if she’s on that plane, it’ll go down and no one will survive. The reader realizes that the task is large but she is rooting for Maguire every step of the way.
The reader isn’t the only one rooting for Maguire. Stokes has surrounded Maguire with other characters who challenge and support her. The romantic lead is tennis star, Jordy who also sees Dr. Leeds. The friendship between Maguire and Jordy grows believably over time and while there are plenty of references to Jordy’s hotness, I was pleased to see that Stokes allows these teens with issues to take it slowly—and uses humor to build their relationship. Maguire and Jordy have an easy banter that doesn’t feel forced or overly scripted.
The other thing that evolves slowly is Maguire and Jordy’s individual mental health treatment successes. There are no silver bullets when it comes to dealing with mental health issues and early on in the book, when Maguire is ready to be "fixed," Dr. Leeds explains that that isn’t how therapy works.
“You’re not a toaster, Maguire. You’re not here to be fixed…The first thing you need to realize is that mental health is fluid. It’s not like you have an infection and a doctor gives you antibiotics and then you’re cured. No matter what the two of us accomplish together, you’re still going to have good days and bad days…”(Stokes, 27.)
Maguire’s good days come through hard work. She creates a series of goals to work through her PTSD and OCD issues. The goals are presented in a list-form that is seamlessly integrated so it doesn’t stop the flow of the story. (Way to go designers!)
I did have a few concerns: the friends in her new high school sometimes feel like they stepped off a teen movie set, and there was one point when I jotted down that a scene could have been slowed down to unpack the emotional impact for Maguire.
The most important note I made was, “I don’t want to stop reading!” and if you’re anything like me—GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE, will be on your shelf of sporty girl favorites.
Reading fiction heightens your awareness and is a catalyst for connections. At the same time I read GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE (April 2016), the magazine Women’s Health published a fabulous article, “Which One of these Women Has Mental Illness,” about the stigmas and realities of living with mental illnesses and the National Center for Health Statistics released their report on suicide. Suicide rates in this country have consistently and constantly increased. A slow rising line that symbolizes the mountain that seems insurmountable for so many who take their own lives. If you are living with any type of mental illness including anxiety, or depression, or if you know someone who is, please get help.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1‑800‑273‑TALK (8255)
SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline –1‑877‑SAMHSA7 (1‑877‑726‑4727)
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