By Cynthia Bujnicki
Maya showed up to school with a black eye, a black eye given to her by her boyfriend, Mike Parker. She reported it to the principal, and now the school is on edge, taking sides and trying to figure out if Maya is a victim or not. Her friend Junnie is trying to be there as much as possible, but her personal demons are abusing her as well. As both girls battle the many forms of abuse society inflicts upon women, they struggle to find and claim their self-worth.
What an outstanding novel. Alyssa Sheinmel has brought readers an unflinching look at two girls in high school whom both suffer at the hands of some abuse. Maya suffers from physical abuse from her boyfriend, the school golden boy and track star, leading her also to develop an eating disorder while her friend suffers from mental abuse causing her to fall into the world of self-harm. Both girls are trying to present themselves to the world the way society expects them to behave and function, except that is not them at all.
Sheinmel highlights the importance of not being put into a bubble, of not being put under a label, and how labels, they are only one facet of a human being. In this novel, her carefully structured chapters and language to analyze the situation through various POVs. It can be a challenge to construct the story in this way by not naming the protagonist and presenting the story in a way that keeps the reader interested as they follow an unknown narrator. However, Sheinmel executes this way of storytelling with ease. She gives nothing away until just the right moment, and the revelation, it is mind-blowing because the bubbles, the fact that Sheinmel uses labels to influence the reader’s perception catches the reader off guard, while also making sure that the story remains thought-provoking.
It is so essential that she uses labels because it is such a relevant way to tell the story. When one labels another individual and puts them in this bubble, it influences everything from perception to behavior, and there is real harm in it, putting people in bubbles. However, her usage of labels highlights the sort of abuse it can incur as well; how living up to a label is as harmful to the psyche physical abuse.
What Kind of Girl is an immensely powerful and relevant story about two girls navigate the trials of finding their self-worth. It is a well-rounded and grounded story that focuses on the characters, on their different facets that define a human being. People have many faces and the way this novel touches upon that makes this an incredible read, especially given how these girls are pressing against those boundaries, against societal expectations in the hope of being happy with themselves, thus making them healthier. They are taking steps to stand up for themselves, and for that reason, this novel is an essential read for anyone struggling. (★★★★★)