Thursday, August 2, 2012

ARC Book Review: The Stone Girl by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Title: The Stone Girl
Author: Alyssa B, Sheinmel
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: August 28, 2012
Rating: 2/5

Cover Impressions:
I do not believe that this cover would stand out on a shelf.  It is not particularly unique.  As for connection with the plot, the cover model doesn't look unhealthy or troubled and her expression does not evoke much of anything in the viewer.

The Gist:
Sethie Weiss is determined.  Determined to be the perfect, sort-of girlfriend for Shaw.  Determined to ace the SAT and have her pick of colleges.  Determined to control her body and watch the number on the scale drop lower and lower.  She suffers from body dis-morphia and examines the other females around her, noting their perfect bodies and lamenting her own flaws.  Sethie revels in feeling hungry and will resort to any means necessary to get rid of every last ounce of fat. 

The Stone Girl offers a glimpse into the mind of a girl not yet in the extreme danger zone but still, suffering from some major body (and self esteem) issues.  While the book tackles a very serious and important issue, I don't feel that it accomplished anything that hasn't already been achieved by its predecessors.

The writing itself is very choppy and the sentence structure just doesn't work.  The author seems to have an aversion to pronouns and sprinkles each paragraph with an abundance of names

"Sometimes he calls Sethie's father, who lives in California, for the money, as though it's the absence of a man that's making Rebecca late.  But Sethie knows that like Shaw, Rebecca can't always be hampered by dates and times.  Though her lateness isn't smooth the way Shaw's is.  Rebecca's lateness is always messy, choppy, harried.  Sethie knows the landlord would love an excuse to evict the tenants of 12A, Rebecca and her daughter, Sethie, the quiet girl who no one would have guessed might be a troublemaker."

This quirk is very jarring and interrupts the flow of the writing.  I also question the choice of third person narrative for this subject matter.  It is difficult to truly get inside Sethie's head and near impossible to see any type of growth by the novel's end.  Were we able to experience more closely with her, we might have gotten a better understanding of the way her mind works.

As a character, Sethie is not particularly likeable.  We are constantly reminded that she is smart, but never get to see this in action and instead are forced to watch as she makes a myriad of bad decisions and lets herself be led around by the males in her life.  I think I might have preferred the story if it had begun prior to Sethie's involvement with Shaw.  That way, we could have seen her as a determined (if damaged) individual and would have been able to lament at her downward spiral.  I did enjoy her budding friendship with Jane but the character seems to serve no other purpose.  The other secondary characters are pretty forgettable, in fact, I had to keep going back in order to remember their names and Sethie's mom plays the chiche absentee parent who doesn't seem to have a clue what is going on with her daughter (or at least doesn't have the guts to do anything about it).

Despite these issues, the book was a sold 3 stars for me.  That is, up until the ending.  I don't want to give too much away, but it was simply too easy.  Nothing had happened to make me believe that Sethie was about to take a step in the right direction and even her mother didn't make any brave moves toward saving her daughter.

As a final note, several times throughout the novel, Sethie mentions how lectures, books and articles on the subject of Anorexia and Bulimia had served as instruction manuals.

 "Sethie is reading a memoir by a girl who was both anorexic and bulimic.  She gets some good ideas from it ..."

"The only thing Sethie had ever gotten from these articles is tips on how to be better at dieting"

This is a personal fear that I have in putting books like these in my classroom.  The last thing that I want to do is further aid a student in their self-destruction.

Due to the content and sexual nature, I would not recommend this book to my students and would probably steer them towards a book on anorexia that had more in the way of characterization.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

16 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Described, but not graphically.
Violence: Self-harm
Inappropriate Language: Bitch, Ass, Fuck, Jesus Christ, Asshole
Substance Use/Abuse: Cigarette Smoking, Pot Smoking, Use of Cocaine, Underage Drinking


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