Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers: Review and Thoughts on Book Banning

some-girls-areSome Girls Are
Courtney Summers
St. Martin’s Griffin

Regina cherishes her position in the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique that rules Hallowell High. But when rumors begin to circulate about Regina and her best friend Anna’s boyfriend, the group turns on Regina. Revenge is the name of the game, and they won’t stop until she’s been destroyed. Regina knows how it works, because she and Anna used to terrorize other students together. Now Regina gets to see what it’s like to be on the other side. She takes refuge in the company of another social outcast—one she helped isolate. As she gets to know Michael and the two develop a tenuous trust, she finds herself caught between her old life, where revenge still beckons, and a new frightening idea: that she could find happiness away from her old crowd. But even if she could convince Anna to truce, is peace really what Regina wants?

It’s hard for me not to compare this book to All the Rage, a more recently published novel by Courtney Summers which deals with some of the same issues, namely rape and bullying. I think I liked All the Rage better because it dealt more with the way the town as a whole responded to a rape allegation and some brutal high school bullying. I also connected more with Romy, the protagonist in All the Rage.

In Some Girls Are, Regina comes to regret her role in bullying other students, but in some ways, it still feels like that’s all she knows. She retaliates against her former friends in an effort to bring them down low enough that they’ll leave her alone. Instead, it continues the vicious cycle, only adding more fuel to the fires of revenge.

I think choosing to tell Some Girls Are from Regina’s perspective and bringing her passion for revenge to the forefront were really bold decisions and carried an important message. I liked that Regina wasn’t a typical victim. I think I just didn’t really believe in her transformation at the end. I needed to see like three chapters more showing that she’d really changed and that she really deserved Michael (whom I absolutely LOVED!!!)

In YA, resolving an issue with any kind of adult involvement gets really tricky. Having a grown-up soar in and rescue the protagonist is a storytelling no-no. So I both appreciate and understand why that wasn’t the direction Summers took with the resolution of Some Girls Are. With a situation involving this kind of brutal bullying, it’s hard for me as a parent not to want adults involved. I believe we want kids to know they can and should bring adults into the equation when they reach a point where they can no longer attend school and feel safe.

Some Girls Are left me wishing for at least a nod to some adult figure who made at least some responsible call somewhere. Instead, I felt like the message was that if you can get good enough blackmail on a bully, you might just be able to stop the whole cycle.

Language Content
Extreme and frequent use of profanity.

Sexual Content
At a party, a boy tries to rape Regina. He tears her skirt and leaves her arms bruised. It’s implied that Regina and her boyfriend Josh have had sex. A boy taunts Regina about it, repeatedly asking if she only likes it in the dark. He also makes a crude comment about oral sex. Regina and another boy kiss. It’s intense but doesn’t progress further.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violence
See sexual content. A group of girls surround Regina and repeatedly punch and kick her. A boy elbows another boy in the face, giving him a bloody nose. Another boy gets hit in the face with a dodgeball and gets a bloody nose. A girl trips another girl, sending her tumbling down the stairs. (She’s not seriously injured.)

Girls use social media to bully Regina. They spread rumors about her and say cruel things to her and to one another. It’s not the first time this group has bullied someone. A previous target tried to commit suicide.

There’s a brief reference to a woman who was killed when an overpass collapsed on her car. No real description of the accident, but her son recalls being grieved that he couldn’t see her after she’d passed away.

Drug Content
One boy supplies students with pharmaceutical drugs (Percocet and Adderall are mentioned specifically.) Teens gather at parties to drink alcohol (smoking pot is briefly mentioned.) Regina is the designated driver at both parties but mentions that she drinks heavily at other times and winds up sick at the end of the night. She drinks mixed drinks and straight liquor in a couple of other scenes.

On Some Girls Are Being Removed from a Charleston Summer Reading List

I bought this book last summer when I heard about the decision by West Ashley High in Charleston to remove the book from their ninth grade summer reading list after receiving complaints from a parent about the content of the novel. I want to say that while I really admire this author’s unflinching look at some of the darker moments of high school and believe that the messages she tackles are so important to us as a culture, I can see why this parent was concerned that her daughter was being asked to read this book.

I have really mixed feelings about banning books. The short answer is I’m generally not a fan of book-banning. Largely because one vocal minority is making a decision that no one should have the option to read a particular book. I’m just not sure I want to give the power to a select group to decide what we’re allowed to read.

I love that this particular parent made the choice to read the book with her daughter and that she made a decision about whether her daughter should be able to read it as a ninth grade student. I think she had the choice between this book and another one and would be tested on comprehension once school started. As a parent, I’d certainly be uncomfortable with the amount of explicit content included in the book. I’d be uncomfortable that it’s on a reading list like this, where there are such limited options.

Honestly, I’m not sure what I would have done in her shoes. I really admire and appreciate this author. I fully believe that parents should be involved in reading what their kids read and make informed decisions about those books. To me where it gets really sticky is the fact that when a book gets banned, now one parent or a few are making a decision for many kids beyond their own. I’m not sure that the book was banned in the school district, however. The article I read only mentions removing it from the reading list and adding another alternative selection.

Courtney Summers received a ton of support from her fans and the YA community after the whole incident. Several hundred copies of the book were donated to and handed out at public libraries in Charleston. I think it’s really great that she received so much support. I do really believe in the importance of the kinds of issues she tackles in her writing.

On the other side, though, I hate that we’ve resorted to shaming this parent for her concern. It’s not easy to be the kind of parent who restricts access to media and literature based on content. Do we think this stuff doesn’t happen– the language, the sex, the drinking? Of course not. And maybe it’s no worse than some of the more explicit TV shows and movies available. I’m not sure that matters where it comes down to the parent of a fifteen year-old deciding what’s appropriate for her to read. I’m thinking she’s probably not saying no, you can’t read Some Girls Are and then letting her go rent Fifty Shades of Grey on DVD, you know? She’s probably restricting her daughter’s access to R rated movies and other explicit books. Maybe her daughter and her daughter’s friends also abstain from those activities. They’re allowed to do that. All in all, I think this South Carolina mom’s heart was in the right place.

There are two sides here, but neither has to be a villain. On one side, you have a parent who feels like the school is forcing her child to read content she’s uncomfortable with. On the other you have a parent whose concerns resulted in forcing the removal of the book from the reading list. So in either case, the wishes of part of the group determined the result for the whole group. There’s no perfect outcome for this situation, but I can’t help wishing that we weren’t so compelled to make one (or both) parties into villains here.

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About Kasey Giard

Kasey is a mother, reader and aspiring author. When she’s not reading or writing, you might find her out on the water fly fishing, pretending she can keep houseplants alive, or talking with the family rescue cat.

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