Gender Relations part 2: Not That Kind of Girl

NOTE:  The following book contains language and themes more appropriate for teen-and-older readers.

Siobhan Vivian.  Not That Kind Of Girl.  New York: PUSH – Scholastic, 2010.

Disclaimer:  I met the author a few days ago, when she led a discussion/workshop at my local library.  My review offers both positive feedback and constructive criticism.

. . . . . . . .

Plot:  Natalie Sterling has always had a spotless reputation, and is determined to keep it that way.  She wants to prove that she’s a strong, independent woman, and it scares her to see girls like freshman Spencer Biddle acting like raw meat for guys to devour.

As for Natalie, guys are definitely not on her agenda for senior year.  So what if people think she’s cold and standoffish?  The only people whose opinions really matter are her best friend Autumn and the student council advisor, Ms. Bee—especially Ms. Bee.  A firm supporter of women’s empowerment, Ms. Bee has heavy expectations for Natalie, especially if she becomes one of the very few female student council presidents in Ross Academy’s history.

Great points:  Natalie is a much more consistent narrator than Kevin Mopsely (see previous review).  What happens in one chapter actually has consequences for later chapters, whereas Kevin seems to have a strange case of selective amnesia, so a discovery in one of the early chapters of Busted has no logical impact on his future actions.

Overall, the characters in Not That Kind Of Girl are much more dynamic—more human—than the characters in Busted.  Even secondary characters are portrayed as individuals rather than types, and this is especially important for the character of Spencer.  She isn’t just a ditzy girl placed in the story to make Natalie’s goodness and the story’s message stand out.  In fact, Spencer challenges some of Natalie’s beliefs and makes the overall message more ambiguous, in a good way.  Readers must decide for themselves:

  • What does it really mean to be a feminist?
  • How independent does a person have to be to prove she’s strong?
  • Are “strong woman” and “sexual woman” mutually exclusive ideas?

Could’ve been improved:   I would have liked to know more about Ms. Bee’s motivations and beliefs.  She holds Natalie to a very high standard, and that adds excellent tension to the story, but sometimes her expectations seem unrealistic.  She definitely isn’t a flat overbearing adult—there is some implication about how her life might have affected her attitude—but sometimes she seems clueless about how much a seventeen-year-old can really handle.

Overall:  From Prologue to Epilogue, Not That Kind Of Girl is a compelling read.  The conflict was complex enough to keep me guessing—this is definitely not a predictable story—and the characters felt real enough to make me care about them.

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