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Hilary T. Smith
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Bryan Peterson
Some Girls Are - Courtney Summers I thought this book was going to burn a hole in my stomach.Even now, when I think about it I feel a visceral surge of anxiety; it triggers a physical response that echoes the rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath that accompanied the reading.I mean this as a compliment to Summers’ writing. The ability to elicit such an intense and provocative reaction is, I think, testament to her skill. Some Girls Are is almost relentlessly harrowing in its portrayal of bullying and abuse, accentuated by Regina’s acerbic voice and Summers’ razor-sharp instinct for pacing and dialogue.This is an unsettling and compelling story. The tension escalates rapidly as the stakes increase, and the novel (literally) doesn’t pull punches – to the point when beginning each chapter was accompanied by a mental flinch. It’s not always easy to read, but it is hard to put down.What delineates Some Girls Are from other novels I’ve read about high school bullying is the perspective. Through Regina, we experience the viewpoint of someone who is both victim and perpetrator, someone who is subjected to physical and psychological bullying, and also inflicts it. Taking this further, not only does Regina exhibit mean girl tendencies, but a part of her relishes them. Even as she becomes fully cognizant of how far-reaching and destructive her actions are, she is also aware that on another level, she takes a vicious pleasure in enacting them.This is an uncomfortable position to be in as a reader. It would be easy to categorise all who carry out this kind of torment as morally reprehensible villains. But Some Girls Are muddies this idea by examining the complex cycle of manipulation and abuse of power amongst the characters. The lines here are not clearly drawn; not all of those culpable are devoid of sympathetic – or at least, understandable – elements. Some Girls Are goes some way to explaining how such a deeply messed up dynamic is perpetuated – feeding off insecurity and intimidation, cultivated to exert control – without attempting to justify it. I don’t believe the novel asks us to defend Regina, but to acknowledge that these situations are rarely black and white. We’re not asked to excuse her actions, but to consider the context of them, to recognise how guilt, abuse and emotionally damaging relationships impact the way she responds to threatening situations.As such, Some Girls Are challenges the common perception of the high school ‘mean girl’ – often presented as little more than a caricature of evil – with a confronting level of physical and emotional cruelty entangled with “friendship” and the ever-shifting hierarchy within cliques. To deny that girls are capable of this kind of behaviour does a disservice to those who have experienced it, and for that reason I believe this is a brave novel, insisting that we face a disturbing reality.Considering the circumstances, buying into Michael’s ability to accept Regina is a big ask of readers, and I understand why some would struggle with how this particular plot line develops. I’m okay with this element of the story – in addition to fuelling the conflict in the final chapters of the novel I think it provides an interesting counter-balance to Kara’s consuming hatred and inability to let go. (And maybe I’m naïve but I want to believe that people are as capable of forgiveness as they are of torture).I feel that the ending is left largely open to interpretation. Personally, I don’t see this as the end of Regina’s story, but rather as the beginning of long, hard road. We don’t know what choices she will make once she leaves those stairs. Even the weaving together of hands is a tentative, fragile thing. A sliver of hope, not a life-preserver thrown into the sea of carnage. Summers offers a reprieve from the harrowing climax in suggesting that Regina has options, a chance to alter her course. But she doesn’t explicitly spell out what lies beyond the final page.. that is left up to you.I'm pretty sure I need an antacid right now.