A high school senior strives to realize her dream of attending Harvard despite financial limitations and her dysfunctional family.
Ashley Maria Perkins has plenty going for her—she’s the valedictorian at her academically challenging private high school, class president, and former captain of the volleyball team. She holds down a job, rescues stray dogs, and aspires to be a doctor. She’s also fat and of mixed ethnicity: her emotionally unavailable, ineffectual father is Caucasian, her absent mother’s Latina, from Colombia. Larsen’s engrossing first-person narrative reveals these details quickly, then layers on incidents and emotions to build an immersive experience as Ashley struggles to write her college application essay and to stand strong in the face of her paternal grandmother’s coercive manipulation. Relationship complications with friends (one of whom is transgender and has her own set of issues, which are sensitively explored), a current boyfriend, a longtime crush, and a jealous classmate add to the intensity, which builds to an expected but nonetheless powerful confrontation. The book is not perfect—more time is spent on conversation and internal rumination than action, the plot can feel overstuffed, and the drama is occasionally over-the-top—but the abundant angst will resonate with many teens.
An absorbing look at the cultural obsession with women’s weight and how much energy and effort it takes to live an authentic life on one’s own terms. (Fiction. 14-18)