An insecure teenager meanders her way through a series of boyfriends in the 1980s, in Bryant’s debut.
Polly Clark is awkwardly growing up in Reston, Va., a quiet suburb of Washington, D.C. filled with community centers and shopping malls. As a perky sixth-grader, she is randomly picked to join the drill team, but quits when she realizes that she’d rather make out with the quiet boy from her social-studies class. That move seems to be the catalyst for her grand social change—Polly morphs in a matter of pages from a sweet, nerdy girl in purple corduroys to an angst-ridden teen dressed in all black. Her next experimentation with boys comes in the form of Jason, a future high-school drop-out who seduces her on a snow day and then, after an awkward bout of first sex, leaves her a misspelled break-up note in her locker. Following Jason is Mike, a clumsy cartoonist who requests blowjobs in between bong hits in his bedroom. Joey is next, the requisite older man, who breaks Polly’s heart when she realizes that she isn’t his only girlfriend. Though Polly appears to grow up when she gets to college, she falls into the arms of yet another wrong man and her grades slip, alienating her parents. The darker, more interesting subtext is that Polly’s perfect suburban family is anything but. Her father lives in North Carolina and uses the money from his minimum-wage job to pay for his booze rather than her child support, which allows her cold and disapproving stepfather, William, to adopt her against her will. Finally, after a traumatic incident during a trip home, Polly returns to college, where she discovers a latent interest in art and finds that, for the first time, she has something larger to motivate her—though she still, disappointingly, doesn’t seem quite confident until she finds a boyfriend.
Polly isn’t boring, but her romantic angst is—and that’s the author’s unfortunate focus.