Virginia Shreves is an overweight teen struggling to make it in her seemingly-perfect family. She is the daughter of a wealthy businessman and a prominent child psychologist and the sister of two older siblings who seem to have everything going for them. Virginia follows her “Fat Girl Code of Conduct” and tries her best to play it cool in a school where she feels sorely out of place. For her entire life Virginia has put her older brother Byron on a pedestal and has always looked up to him as the ideal family member. When Byron returns home from college after being accused of date rape Virginia is forced to examine everything she thought she knew and understood not only about her beloved brother, but about relationships themselves. In the aftermath of family trauma Virginia finds her voice and begins to exercise her individuality. Along the way she is learning life lessons about love, friendship, and fitting in where she though she might never belong.
In this novel Carolyn Mackler uses a multi-format approach to presenting the story. Not only is the book written in traditional prose format, but interspersed throughout the story are snippets of lists, notes, and emails that help move the storyline forward. Instead of relying solely on the narrative prose the author fills in important details using these secondary formats. Perhaps the most important example are the emails sent between the protagonist Virginia and her best friend Shannon. Although the two characters are in different cities throughout most of the novel, they communicate via email. Within these emails the character’s emotions and motivations become evident and they become a very important part of the dialogue between two characters.
In using these different formats the novel appeals to a very modern teen audience who is used to relying on technology like texting and email for communication. It is very realistic that Virginia and Shannon would email each other regularly to stay in touch instead of talking on the telephone and I found it a very modern way of telling the story. Revealing the storyline via these snippets of media allows the author to reveal important plot points and advance the storyline without adding pages of background information or unnecessary telephone-related dialogue. It is a cleaner and more readable approach.
On a personal level I had a difficult time identifying with Virginia as the lead protagonist in the story. I feel like the author painted a caricature of an overweight teen more than a realistic and complete character. In the end Virginia came off as entitled and whiny and not altogether very likable, which I think is extremely important in fiction aimed at young adults. I would have liked to have seen a more well-rounded and emotionally deeper character instead of the quite shallow and self-centered Virginia. I wish that not every “fat” girl in literature was depicted as so pathetic and needy and felt like this novel kept up that stereotype.
Something I did really like about the novel was the treatment of date rape as an issue. I enjoyed the way that the author left Virginia questioning not only the repercussions of her brother’s behavior on the family, but also the way the act might have made the victim feel. I enjoyed the scene where Virginia goes to the victim Annie Mills and the conversation they have. After having her own views on boys and relationships rocked with her brother’s actions, Annie’s speech leaves Virginia feeling more empowered and in control of her own reactions to the world around her. I like that the act of date rape wasn’t brushed under the table, but the story still ended in a positive manner.
Overall I was expecting more from a Printz Award-wining novel, but it was a pleasant story with some nice aspects to it. I’m not sure if teens would find Virginia as whiny as I did, but there are some excellent life lessons to be learned from the characters in the novel.