Arresting first novel about a Milwaukee 15-year-old and her two best friends, the “sluts of Sacred Heart.”
Thisbe, aka Jellybean, is humiliated by a classmate and silent for six months before her parents divorce. After that, she and her mother on their own, her mother transfers her to Sacred Heart. Within days, she connects with Astrid and Juli in a “teenage kind of family.” The threesome dress in “uniform punk”—boots, shredded tights, short skirts—and, in pursuit of boys, they’re called “whores on the hill.” Together they discover makeup, boys (from “Jagermeister kid” to two Serbian college students to a bunch of football players to a stuttering NASCAR wannabe), birth control (the pill, a diaphragm), drugs, booze, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy. Astrid boasts, “We’re the new breed of the new girl. We take no prisoners.” The three experience the exhilaration of infatuation and the pain of rape (“You ever notice, sooner or later, all love begins to look like violence,” says Astrid). Their parents and teachers are bit players in a drama that involves all-night diners, coffee shops, parties and dance clubs. Jellybean falls in love and has her first orgasm, Juli attempts suicide and ends up in a psychiatric hospital for two weeks. The legend of Deb Scott, the wildest girl to come out of Sacred Heart, hangs over the group as a cautionary specter. She has disappeared, possibly died, and every year, on the anniversary of her disappearance, the senior girls throw a howling masked party. Curran adds punch to her story with occasional passages based on the format of teen magazine cover lines, like “first sexual experiences by star sign” or “first kiss.” But what makes it sing are the lyrical descriptions of the intensity of those first times—including first betrayal by a best friend—and the aftermath of “remorse . . . grit and shame and a broken, nameless joy.”
Quick-moving, cleanly written: a promising start for Curran.