Thursday, February 08, 2007

BIG MOUTH AND UGLY GIRL

Big Mouth and Ugly Girl, Joyce Carol Oates, HarperCollins Publishers, 2002, 266 pp

This is Oates' first young adult novel. I didn't know what to expect but I should have known that it would be great because it is by Joyce Carol Oates. The setting is a high school in a Hudson River community not far outside New York City. The Big Mouth is Matt Donaghy whose life is ruined by being named as a suspect in a bomb threat at the school. Before the incident he was a popular, respected kid with a talent for writing and a reputation for being funny.

Ugly Girl is Ursula Riggs, whose successful and rich father does nothing for her socially because she has a big body and a prickly personality. She is an outcast at school, an athlete and an introverted teen yet she comes to Matt's defense though she barely knows him.

Throughout a semester of school. Matt and Ursula become friends and each grows because of the gnarly circumstances which they must live through. Oates deals with all the issues with just the right touch: teens vs parents, terrorism in the schools, identity, reputation and trust. A family of religious fanatics is unflinchingly portrayed for what they are and she even brings in some Germaine Greer feminism.

I was impressed because there is no glossing over of the way it really is in today's suburban high schools but she never overdoes it. And she tells a good story that keeps you wanting to know what is going to happen.

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