Young Adult Lit/Crit

April 7, 2008

Cry a River and Drown the Whole World

Filed under: STORY OF A GIRL — traverse02 @ 11:10 am

I have to be honest, I really didn’t like Story of a Girl. It started off well, with the integration of the story Deanna was writing about the girl drifting out in the sea and the variations of the rumors floating around the school, but none of the characters were strong or developed enough for me to be interested in what was going on, which really wasn’t much to begin with. Basically, Deanna dwells on all of her problems (for much too long I might add) and is a very depressing and inactive protagonist. She has no interests and does nothing but work all summer. She frequently writes about paddling out to sea, but we never see why she feels this connection to the ocean. Is she a surfer or something? I felt that adding something like that, where she could break free from her hard-knock life, would have brought much more to the story and the character. Otherwise she just comes across as completely worthless, mulling about the house or work, worried about what everyone is thinking, attempting to get with Jason despite the fact that her friend Lee is going out with him (I thought that was a particularly rotten scene when she forced herself on him… I mean, come on… “It’s cold, can I borrow a shirt?” How desperate are you?). I can understand how the sexual encounter would have been a major issue in her life, with people still teasing her and what not, but that’s all it is, people teasing her. Life goes on. Grow up. She even admits towards the end that other girls were having sex back when her fling with Tommy occurred. Besides, she made the decision to go with him. I know, I know, he was much older and he was very forceful, but their fling happened over time and she went along each time knowing full well what was going to happen. For me it’s hard to side with the victim when the victim perpetuates the situation of being the victim. I guess I’m just a jerk and have no sympathy for people who dig their own graves.  She could have talked to Darren (who, by the way, seemed to me to be the most realistic character in the whole story, especially at the point when Deanna tries to go with him to find Stacey, another pathetic instance for Deanna). Maybe her dwelling on the problem was a result of her home life and her dad’s behavior? Actually, that probably is the answer, because everything turns around once she stands up to her dad. But her dad’s complete ignorance of what happened seemed unrealistic. 3 years? And you can’t even say one word?

Ah, well I guess this has turned more into a rant than a facilitation. I’m sure I will hear plenty about how I don’t fully grasp the gravity of the whole story, but it’s hard to with such an unlikeable, clingy, inactive and ultimately vapid main character. (I won’t even mention the sad attempts at comic relief). Even clever devices like incorporating her journal entries become grating as the novel goes on. Drifting at sea. Such a powerful metaphor. Never heard that one before. Maybe if it had some context. She mentions early on that this journal nonsense is the result of her English class with Mr. Whoever (he has a name, but he is never mentioned again, even though what he introduces to her has significant influence on her and the novel itself), but that is never developed. There are loose ends like this all over which could have been tied up to make a much tighter and enthralling story. I guess I should keep in mind that this is Sara Zarr’s first novel, but hopefully she won’t take the National Book Award nomination as a sign that she did everything right. The novel has its moments, especially towards the end with the realistic way things are handled with her family and Lee and Jason, but it feels to me like a work in progress. I won’t condemn her. I just couldn’t get into it. I don’t think many boys could, either.

I could go on forever about this, but I just want to know if anyone else had any problems enjoying this book? Judging from Kate’s post, I’m not totally alone. But I think my reaction might be a little more vehement, so I apologize if I went too far off the deep end. Just didn’t dig it.




  1. Raph, I’m glad you shared your rant. I have a very different reaction to the book–maybe you didn’t have any of those “floating,” do-nothing-of-importance summers as a teen but I sure did. Go to a local mall and hang out and just watch teens.

    I still stand by my original take on the novel–I find Deanna a very realistic teenage girl and the story an accurate rendering of her imagined life/family/friends. If we “reject” her, we have to reject Hannah as well. Very similar female protagonists with not dissimilar stories to tell–Hannah’s is the more tragic of course.

    What do you think about Asher’s characterization of Hannah in THIRTEEN REASONS? Seems that what you say about Deanna’s complicity in her own victimization could be said of Hannah as well.

    I think as adults we want to say “get over it. Life does go on.” But that is simply an inadequate response to the adolescent who is in the storm of these powerful emotions. KES

    Comment by sunyprof — April 7, 2008 @ 11:37 am

  2. Raph, Maybe its because your not a girl, but I know a lot of girls who are like Deanna, and even recognized some shreds of myself in there. I think every girl who was thirteen and had a crush could find herself somewhere in this norel. I think it’s very relateable for everyone, even those who have not had to deal with a “reputation.”

    TO move on to the reputation aspect, I found this to be a very powerful component of the book, and one that holds the whole thing together. It made me think of everytime I heard a rumor. You never think of what it’s like for the person on the other end. I think Zarr captures this well. She also did a great job of portraying the family dynamics. Sometimes the most devastating problems in a family can occur beneath the surface. A family can still appear respectable, but be extremely dysfunctional. This struck me at the end of the novel, when the family has the argument after Michael drives Deanna home. The fight was not THAT bad, but extremely significant for all of the family members.

    I didn’t think this book slowed down too much in the end. I see what you are saying about the journal being a loose end, but it didnt really bother me until you pointed it out. I don’t know if I’d use this book as a class text, but I thought this was a good book overall, and I would recommend it to a young teenage girl.


    Comment by allison — April 7, 2008 @ 8:36 pm

  3. Karen, you make a very good point. Sometimes there is no getting over it, especially when you’re a teenager… I guess I didn’t put myself there like I should have when reading Story of a Girl, but for some reason I was put off a little less than half way through. I would argue that 13 Reasons is far more affecting. But I’ll have to get into that on another blog or class discussion.

    Allison, you make a very good point too. Even coming from a guy’s perspective Zarr really did capture the awkwardness of having a big crush. We all do things to try and get noticed. Her desperation really shows in the scene at the mall when she is shopping for clothes with Jason. I think we’ve all had those moments. Not so much with the clothes shopping but with the trying to get noticed. There definitely are good things at work in this book and I think I went off the deep end with picking it apart (which makes me beg the question: Am I reading YA lit the wrong way?), but like I said, I don’t think guys would get into it. Like you say, I wouldn’t use it in a classroom, but I would recommend it to a girl.


    Comment by traverse02 — April 8, 2008 @ 12:33 am

  4. Raph, I thought about your post all day yesterday. And I’m still thinking about it. I do think this is a gender divide response. I don’t think a man can “get” Deanna the way women readers do. Do you think that’s a valid claim? I’m esp. interested in talking about the discourses around sex/sexuality that circulate through this novel–not just in the Deanna/Tommy relationship but also w/Lee/Jason, Stacy/Darren. These are powerful discourses and they regulate “how” we read this novel. Thoughts? KES

    Comment by sunyprof — April 8, 2008 @ 6:53 am

  5. I don’t know if you can necessarily classify this as a gender divide response because it seems, like Raph, I am having a lot of trouble really “getting” Deanna. I do think some parts or her story are sad and have empathy for her, but otherwise, I can’t really like her or get into what’s happening in the book. While I would never discourage a student from reading this book (I can’t think of any books I would really discourage a kid from reading), I don’t think I could ever conviningly recommend it to any girls.

    Comment by katefrazer — April 8, 2008 @ 7:02 pm

  6. Raph, I was kind of cracking up about your blog title, because as I was thinking about Deanna that song (I dont know its name but it could very well be “Story of a Girl”) was definately in the back of my head! That being said, I think you did actually “get” Deanna you just couldn’t find a way to relate to her in her literary form. Perhaps after reading this novel, however, you would be better off to recognize a “real-life” Deanna in your classroom and put this book in her hand? Who knows…

    I admit that at times this book did seem “whiney” in a way that was discouraging because I really did enjoy Deanna quite a bit. Like others that have posted, I saw myself in a lot of what her character was going through, and was able to relate to her on that level. It is difficult sometimes, as a teen, to discern where your identity begins and where others opinions of you end. Deanna was locked into this idea that she had a reputation, which no one would let her forget because that is all they saw everytime they looked at her, and was allowing it to define her. Without the reputation, she barely even recognized herself. Does this make sense? Probably just another rant of mine.

    In any event, I enjoyed your post Raph- we dont all have to love every novel we read and it is refreshing to hear an alternate view from my own (even though I am right- haha just kidding!!).


    Comment by Kari — April 8, 2008 @ 7:42 pm

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