Pulling back the curtain on the wizard of social expectations, Arnold (Infandous, 2015, etc.) explores the real, knotted, messy, thriving heartbeat of young womanhood.
When Nina Faye’s mother tells her that there is no such thing as unconditional love, that even a mother’s love for a daughter could end at any time, Nina believes her—after all, she has already seen many conditions of love at play: beauty, money, aloofness, sex. Two years later, the white, now-16-year-old not only confirms that these and more are unspoken stipulations of her relationship with her boyfriend, Seth (also white), but also finds they are part of the very fabric of cisgender girlhood that suddenly threatens to smother her. Nina’s embroiling first-person prose alternating with what are revealed to be her own short stories lifts and examines the veils that encapsulate all the “shoulds” and “supposed tos” of teenage girlhood to expose bodily function, desire, casual cruelty, sex and masturbation, miscarriage and abortion, and, eventually, self-care. Arnold interweaves myriad landscapes, from the parched affluence of California neighborhoods to the ordered sadness of a high-kill animal shelter where Nina volunteers, from the sculpted terrain of Rome’s brutalized virgin martyrs to the imperfect physicality of Nina’s own body, into a narrative wholeness that is greater than its parts.
Unflinchingly candid, unapologetically girl, and devastatingly vital. (author’s note) (Fiction. 13-17)