A Canadian teen copes with bullying and instability at home and discovers life-affirming friendship in Dobbie’s YA debut.
The daily indignities and tortures of social exile shape a woefully recognizable high school experience far more even than classes or prom. Add to the vile bullying at school an unstable, neglectful mother, who uses alcohol and hoarding as emotional crutches, at home, and you get Aggie Murphy’s life. Dejected and exhausted, at the mercy of her popular tormenters and her spiraling mother, Aggie comes up with a plan to record and reveal her bullies’ depravity to everyone, and she invites other outcasts to join her in her revenge. But when a fellow outcast escapes her own torment by suicide, Aggie’s coping becomes increasingly desperate and destructive as the stakes rise higher and higher. Dobbie offers a glimpse into the paradoxical bubble of normalcy that can be built around everyday suffering, until of course the bubble bursts. The deftly handled complexities of mental illness, trauma, and self-harm provide a complicated emotional landscape, enrichened by characters’ resilience and humor. Heavy-handed representation of adult imperfections nonetheless paired with the directive to “tell an adult” chips away at authenticity, moving uncomfortably close to victim-blaming; likewise, a troubling framing of fatness and weight loss detract from overall affirming characterization. All characters are assumed white, with the result that racially motivated bullying does not appear.
A new take on a timeless theme—it gets better. (Fiction. 13-17)