Ordinary Girls

Here’s a modern day send-up of a Jane Austen novel: two young girls–their acclaimed novelist father deceased for many years–live with their inept artistic mother in a shabby but genteel Victorian house in a Philadelphia neighborhood. They subsist on royalties received by their mom for illustrations done for a famous set of children’s books about Five Little Field Mice, as well as on their mom’s teaching salary, rent from a PhD music student staying in their carriage house, and what remains of their father’s life insurance policy.

The two sisters, Plum and Ginny, attend the exclusive Gregory School, where Plum is a sophomore and Ginny a senior. Both are smart students, but while Ginny has friends among the High-Strung Smart Girls, Plum contentedly keeps her own company with her books, thoughts and writings. She is the stabilizing force in the family, handling family crises as they arise without much help from anyone else. When her mom’s book royalties are about to cease, their tenant loses his job and can’t pay his rent, the plumbing in the house needs overhauling, and Ginny is frantic about getting admitted to and then finding financial aid for the University of Pennsylvania, Plum acquires a profitable tutoring job (working with cute classmate Tate Kurokawa) and sets herself on the path to romance while trying to solve the family problems.

This clever, inventive, well-written book will capture the attention of YA readers who are in the throes of senior activities that are making them anxious about their futures. It addresses issues such as private school policies based on donor influence, university legacy admissions, old money versus new (or no) money, sibling rivalry, family frictions, lack of communication, the failure of parents to act their parts, the worth of adolescent psychiatric counseling, and so on. On a grander scale, this book counters Rainer Maria Rilke’s prefacing idea that “writing young” does not produce anything of worth. As Plum sums up her writing at the end of the book, she says this:

“I am only fifteen now, it is true. And one day I will be eighteen, and twenty-five, and thirty-five, and fifty, and hopefully older, and hopefully at least that old, and I will think of these days as foolish or inconsequential or only invested with meaning with the benefit of hindsight.

“But I will also not see them as I do now. They will not be raw, fresh, stinging, bloomingly warm as this afternoon when I sit on the windowsill with Kit Marlowe over my feet. I will forget the smell of his fur, the lead paint peeling just so, like an opening mouth, the unabashed clanging of the fat wind chimes that hang beneath me in the garden. So perhaps it is in fact in my best interest to write now, and encapsulate something.”

Pass this book on to your good readers with the awareness that there are some sexual references as well as references to teenage drinking and implied suicide. There is a fair amount of offensive language (damn, shit, f***, hell, dick, asshole) as well as religious profanity that is quite jarring.

Categories: Art, Bullying, Death and Grieving, Diversity, Dysfunctional Relationships, Grief, Mental Health, Navigating through High School, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Parent Conflict, Peer Relationships, Suicide

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