CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 13 . . . .March 3, 2006
This trendy, new novel with the hot pink cover immerses the reader in the bittersweet world of the young teenaged girl. It contains the usual struggles of self-identify and relationship issues between girlfriends, boyfriends, and family. The plot is very simple and linear, but the dialogue is fast-paced and usually right on for authentic voice and tone of various characters. However, there are several disturbing attitudes presented for this young teen audience, and the theme or point of the novel is not a positive or empowering one. Much of the language and mentality is focused on the young teen, but there are topics and some content presented that may be more appropriately included in an older context.
Gloria is almost fourteen and under the influence of Shawna, her dominating, self-centred friend. Along with gossiping and acting preoccupied with getting boyfriends, together they act out their fantasies about boys and sexual relationships when they play Barbies with Shawna's three dolls: Good, Second Good, and Ugly Naked. The descriptions of these scenes are bizarre - what teenager plays with Barbies these days? Not only is their play unbelievable, it is rather disturbing with many elements of masochistic and voyeuristic tendencies.
This sex play is designed to set the stage for the real life events that occur when Gloria "accidentally" gets a boyfriend after spraining her ankle in front of his house. The reader braces for the rough sex that is bound to occur as the relationship develops and Gloria becomes more and more susceptible to the influence of this new controlling relationship.
Fifteen-year-old Marc is the cutest boy in grade nine and the object of much designing between the girls. The only negative appears to be his bizarre friend, Hamish, who is rumored to have stepped on a baby squirrel. This is not normal behaviour, even for a teenaged boy, but it creates a fascination and intrigue that extends throughout the novel. Hamish is always with Marc at his house or at school, and the two teens exhibit an interdependent relationship that is fairly typical of teen boys. However, there is a suggestion that there is something more sinister to their relationship than hanging out and smoking pot together. Finally, it is revealed that Marc has paid Hamish and a former girlfriend to do cruel and inappropriate things. Marc also allows Hamish to watch him making out with Gloria.
As the book is written in first person, the reader witnesses first hand how much Gloria loves kissing Marc. The frequent descriptions of physical responses to their first kiss and subsequent extended kissing are honestly graphic and likely just what a young teen girl would want to read about. Gloria isn't afraid to show him how much she likes it either. However, when Marc takes this response as acquiescence, he pins her on the couch and initiates sex without her consent. She says no repeatedly but has to sharply knee him in the groin to stop it. Thus ends the great romance as he blithely starts up his video game again and she walks home. But not before she discovers Hamish, sitting on Marc's doorstep, who suggests that he was watching the whole thing!
The other sexual issue that comes up is of a homosexual nature. When Shawna discovers that Gloria has gone behind her back and got Marc for herself, she becomes best friends with Tina, someone the girls used to ridicule. Gloria doesn't recognize that she is jealous of Tina until Shawna manages to be friends with both and the three of them start to hang out together more. When Tina reveals her deepest secret to Gloria, the rumors about Tina possibly being a lesbian are confirmed. However, instead of developing and exploring this very sensitive topic for young teens, it occurs in a gratuitous and insensitive way. The reader is left wondering what Tina will do and how she will reconcile the sexual confusion she is experiencing.
One strength of this novel is the real and rich relationships between the members in Gloria's family - they laugh, they fight, they tease, they worry, they love. The interaction between them is both comic and real, effectively reflecting the mixed emotions a teenage girl feels about those people she lives closely with. Clearly, they love her and are concerned for her safety and well being if a little liberal minded. The mother makes several references to drugs and warns Gloria not to do cocaine or heroin as if they merely contain too much sugar or caffeine. If it is meant as a joke, it is too subtle for teens.
Gloria is a follower. She is not a strong, independent character but is easily manipulated by Shawna and then by Marc. Despite all of Gloria’s new experiences with friendships and learning how to act in "Boyfriend Country,” the reader doesn't have a sense that Gloria has learned much about herself through it all. At the end of the novel, the three girls take the Barbies and plan to float them in little paper boats that are set on fire - a tribute to their lost childhood. This is Shawna's idea, but she doesn't appear to have grown up at all during this time, and she is as self-centred as ever. However, Gloria wants to keep the Barbies from destruction and bargains to keep the special gold dress and the leg of Ugly Naked as souvenirs. She isn't ready to leave her childhood behind just yet and doesn't seem to have grown up much either. By the end of the novel, it is still not clear exactly what Gloria wants.
Diana Wilkes has taught grades K to 10 and is completing a Master of Arts degree in Children's Literature at the University of British Columbia.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.