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Reviews Thu Jul 15 2010
Mostly Good Girls
by Leila Sales
(Simon Pulse, forthcoming October 2010)
A private, super-competitive high school is always a good site to explore the issues of class and coming-of-age in young-adult literature. Even if you didn't attend that kind of school, it's still entertaining to read about upper middle class, smart kids and their ambitions/problems, which, in high school, are often separated by a very thin line. In the case of University of Chicago grad Leila Sales's Mostly Good Girls, the 16-year-old narrator's goals -- which include "Get A-minuses or better in all my classes" and "Make Scott Walsh fall in love with me" -- are spelled out on the first page of the book, and this junior-year to-do list encompasses much of the conflict in the story.
Except for one thing: the list's writer, Violet Tunis, doesn't anticipate her best friend since middle school, Katherine "Katie" Cabot Putnam, becoming a totally different person. Katie changes from the goofy, fun-loving girl who effortlessly got good grades and only kind of got to second base with a guy she met on the Vineyard, to someone Violet (who is embarrassed that, at 16, she hasn't yet French kissed a boy) hardly recognizes. The priorities that Violet thought they shared ultimately become what pull them further and further apart.
The daughter of two professors in Boston, Violet doesn't really share the background of some of the other girls in the all-girl's school. Her last name isn't linked to an old-money Boston family, and she, unlike Katie, has to actually work to get good grades and be successful in her extracurriculars, which include editing the school's literary magazine -- "ambitiously entitled The Wisdom," Violet says. But Katie of the Cabots and the Putnams gets invited to cotillions (which she refuses to attend, despite her mother's efforts to convince her) and is a thriving coxswain on the school's rowing team.
There are hints throughout the story that Violet and Katie's relationship will change during their junior year, but the deterioration starts off slowly. It's really not until Katie starts dating an older guy, more than halfway through the book, that the cracks growing between them turn into a chasm.
Sales, who grew up near Boston, drew from her life for the novel, her first. A former humor columnist for the U of C Maroon, Sales started off writing funny vignettes about an all-girls' Boston prep school, and eventually, Sales says, "there wound up being a plot." The dialogue is snappy and witty, Gilmore Girls-style, but it doesn't feel forced. Violet really is funny -- of all the girls in the class, Violet would be the one I'd want to narrate this story. "You don't know why he's not in college and you don't know his feelings on Disney weddings?" she asks Katie about her new beau. "What do you know about this guy?" As an observant outsider, she's relatable, and as much as she tells her own story, she's telling the story of her classmates, and, ultimately, of growing up and growing apart from someone she once shared everything with.