Girls Like Us by Gail Giles
Biddy and Quincy have just graduated from high school – out of their Special Education program and into the real world. Through their transition program, they receive an apartment and job placements. As they settle into their new life, they rub each other’s hard edges down and provide support as each learns to overcome their past hurts and traumas to find a full life. Both girls deal with some heavy stuff, but they end their story with hope.
Romance Score: Absolutely NOT
This book is not about the warm tingleys of young love. In no way. In fact, trigger warning for abuse and sexual violence.
This book gets its feminist credits for a couple of reasons. Biddy and Quincy are out in the world, making it on their own with the resources supporting them and they fight back against the (lack of) expectations their families set for them. Not only that, but after some seriously awful things happen, both girls realize that being a “speddie” shouldn’t preclude them from respect and dignity.
This book features two narrators, both recent graduates of a high school special education program. That alone makes it a stand out in YA. Then, there’s the fact that Quincy has been through the foster care system and is mixed-race, also not super common. Then, in addition, we have them talking about life as young adults with learning disabilities/special needs – a perspective that is rarely (ever?!) seen. Social class issues are also brought into the story, though not directly highlighted. There is a great moment between the girls and Elizabeth, the older woman that Biddy helps care for, that highlights the difficult line between friend and ‘the help,’ as well as the patronizing attitude of people that try to “help” when they think they know what is best for someone.
While I found a lot to value in the story and the narrators, I found a couple of things really difficult. The book was written in vernacular – super southern, Texas drawl. I think vernacular is really hard to pull off at ALL times, but since this book is about two girls just leaving special education, it felt like a disservice to their story. It was extremely difficult to tell in the beginning if the vernacular was regional or an extremely offensive attempt to show their “speddie” status. In the authors note, Giles says she wanted to give a voice to the students she had worked with for many years – but the voice she gave doesn’t sound like most of the other characters found in YA books and serves to separate the girls from their YA peers. It was also difficult to determine which girl was narrating at times, as their voices were not easy to distinguish (maybe because of the vernacular?). Even so, I’m glad to have read Quincy and Biddy’s stories and to have more representation in books.
I’m not sure I really have one. The book is so quick and the girls melding at times into one another, it’s hard to choose.
I didn’t find the writing style especially arresting. There are a few passages from Biddy that cut through to the simple beauty of life, but nothing spectacular stuck out.
Is this book worth a hangover?
I don’t think you’ll get one, but you may end up with puffy eyes from crying at the serious injustice that Biddy and Quincy – and by extension, real girls like them – suffer through.
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Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco K Stork.
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