BIG MOUTH & UGLY GIRL by Joyce Carol Oates

BIG MOUTH & UGLY GIRL

Age Range: 14 & up
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A seasoned pro from the world of adult literature turns her keen observer’s eye to young-adult realism, with notable success. Big Mouth is Matt Donaghy, and when the reader first meets him, he is being led from class under police escort, having been overheard in the cafeteria threatening to blow up the school. Ugly Girl is Ursula Riggs, athletic and alienated, and she is the only student who understands instantly that the terrorism accusations against Matt are wholly baseless and is willing to act to clear him. Thus begins a friendship that develops as Matt sinks further and further into depression with the realization that his friends were all too willing to abandon him and as Ursula allows herself to relinquish the safe distance she’s always kept. Oates effectively evokes the culture of high school, where association is everything and rumor almost always preferable to truth. By beginning the tale with Matt’s accusation, she leaves herself room for a leisurely exploration of the personal and social repercussions on the kids, on the school, and on the families. The narrative moves back and forth from third person to first person as it tells Matt’s and Ursula’s stories, respectively. Ursula herself is an effectively drawn character, a girl who feels such a need to defend herself from the world of conformity that she has created an alter-ego she refers to in the third person: “I wiped at my eyes, annoyed that they were wet. It must’ve been caused by the March wind off the river for Ugly Girl doesn’t cry.” If Matt isn’t quite so effectively presented by comparison and if some of the secondary characters are so underdeveloped as to be stock, the story itself and the way it unfolds is compelling enough to override these details. Honest and penetrating. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: May 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-06-623756-4
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2002




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