ARC Review: Just a Girl

Just a GirlJust a Girl by Carrie Mesrobian
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

By her senior year of high school, Rianne has exhausted all the fun there is to have in small town Wereford, Minnesota. Volleyball season is winding down, the parties all feel tired, and now that she’s in a serious relationship with reformed player Luke Pinsky, her wild streak has ended. Not that she ever did anything more than the guys her age did…but she knows what everyone thinks of her.

Including her parents. Divorced but now inexplicably living together again, Rianne wonders why they’re so quick to point out every bad choice she’s making when they can’t even act like adults. With an uncomfortable home life and her once-solid group of friends now dissolving, the reasons for sticking around after high school are few. So why is Rianne in lockstep when it comes to figuring out her future?

That’s not the only question Rianne can’t answer. Lately she’s been wondering why, when she has a perfect-on-paper boyfriend, she wants anything but. Or how it is that Sergei, a broken-English-speaking Russian, understands her better than anyone who’s known her all her life? And why has Rianne gotten stuck with an “easy girl” reputation for doing the same exact things guys do without any judgment?

Spoilers are marked like this

From the blurb, I expected this to be a sex-positive coming-of-age story about a girl who figures out her life and all. But Just a Girl veers far from that. First, the narration is very detached; it is in the third person but describes all her random musings through the book. Some of them are very philosophical and make for good quotes, yes, but if you were hoping to understand her through it, you are out of luck. Rianne is sort of indifferent when it comes to sex – she has had it plenty of times, and thought it doesn’t excite her, she goes along with it. She and Luke, another guy like her, form sort of a relationship and even though it gets serious on his side, she is mostly non-committal about it. She likes being needed, but she doesn’t want it herself – I think that’s the way I figured it out. I should warn that the book involves several sex scenes (obviously), so here’s your content warning.

But when she meets Sergei, she starts wanting him. Never mind that she is at a crossroads in her life, with her mother giving her an ultimatum to get her life in order and move out, her future plans to live with her best friends abruptly disbanded – now she doesn’t know what she wants, except for him. And she goes for it, even though she knows it is wrong that she is cheating on Luke. Now, I’m all for a girl being comfortable with her sexuality, but cheating is where I draw the line. And as for breaking up with Luke, she does it in the worst way possible, and she doesn’t even berate Sergei for it. Speaking of Sergei, please tell me I am not the only one who found him problematic – he is older than her, likes violence, gives her an ultimatum but makes the decisions for her. Like, that is certainly grounds for a stable relationship. Sure, he makes her come multiple times, but is that really what you want to run away from your seemingly boring life for?

Look, I am never one for advising what teens should not read. But this book has me considering that. Because even with the realistic depiction of a girl’s sexuality and psyche, I do not think it is advisable to encourage the message being sent by the ending of this book. Also, guy whisks you off because you have given up on making it on your own, and you be happy? That is the sort of message you want to give to young girls? Really? Not to mention how dangerous it would be in reality to run off with a guy when you DON’T EVEN KNOW HIS FREAKING LAST NAME! These are the kinds of stories that make the evening news, not the basis for a coming-of-age novel!

Anyway, even if I got past that ending, this book doesn’t have much to commend for itself. The pacing is super slow, and if I was this close to not DNFing it. I thought, you know what, maybe the ending will make this directionless plot have some sense, like it would be something that would make me look past the utter boredom I felt despite the good writing. But it was like watching a wet firework burn and hoping it will go on and then it just fizzles out – that is what I felt when I finished this book.

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