Monday, June 15, 2015

Weightless by Sarah Bannan

Title: Weightless
Author: Sarah Bannan
St. Martin's
Release Date: June 30, 2015
Rating: 4/5

The Gist: When 15-year-old Carolyn moves from New Jersey to Alabama with her mother, she rattles the status quo of the junior class at Adams High School. A good student and natural athlete, she’s immediately welcomed by the school’s cliques. She’s even nominated to the homecoming court and begins dating a senior, Shane, whose on again/off again girlfriend Brooke becomes Carolyn’s bitter romantic rival. When a video of Carolyn and Shane making out is sent to everyone, Carolyn goes from golden girl to slut, as Brooke and her best friend Gemma try to restore their popularity. Gossip and bullying hound Carolyn, who becomes increasingly private and isolated. When Shane and Brooke—now back together—confront Carolyn in the student parking lot, injuring her, it’s the last attack she can take.

This first thing you will notice upon reading Weightless is that it is written in the first person plural.  We follow from the perspective of three (I think) girls in the popular clique of Adams High.  The girls are obsessed with image; wearing the right thing, hanging out in the right place, being seen with the right people.  They constantly name drop celebrities, brands, and television shows.  I will admit, this was irritating in the beginning, jarring me from the story each time it happened, but as the plot continued it revealed the mindset of these teens, hyper aware of how they stack up against their peers and the celebrities they idolize.  The first person plural does take some getting used to.  It is outputting at first, but it gives a strange sort of distance from the story as we see through the eyes of a bystander, rather than one of the main characters.  I was left continuously asking myself whether or not I felt the narrator was reliable.  It is a very interesting way of telling a story that allows the reader to examine the impact not only of the bullies, but also those who stand on the outskirts, who retweet, share, and spread gossip.  Unfortunately, it also doesn't allow for any deep development of the characters.  Instead, everything we see is just at the surface and we are left to guess at the feeling and motivation behind their actions.  

The plot of Weightless is slow at first.  There is a great deal of exposition and concentration on football, church, and pep rallys.  While this does show the obsessions not only of the teens, but of the town as a whole, it is also rather dull.  We catch glimpses of Carolyn at these events and must piece together stolen moments.  Through each event, our narrator is constantly commenting on how skinny or fat each person is and what they are wearing.  As I said earlier, it speaks to the mentality of these girls, but it gets tedious.  The plot unwinds very slowly and requires a patient reader.  It is pretty clear from the beginning where this plot will end, however knowing it is coming doesn't make it any less heartbreaking.

Bannan has created a frightening view of teenage life today.  It shows how the intrusion of social media into our lives has made it nearly impossible to escape the bullies.  When this is added to a town obsessed with religion and sports, where "boys will be boys" and teens present a perfect image to their parents and something completely different to their peers, it is a terrifying mix.  In the end, the most disturbing thing was the justification of our narrator.  The teens insisted that they had done nothing wrong, that Carolyn deserved what happened to her for being stuck up and an outsider.  That nothing she had experienced was different from what every other girl went through (a thought terrifying in its own right).  We know, from the narration, that the girls recognize their role, deep down, but as we all know, it is incredible what you can convince yourself of if you repeat it often enough.

Bottom Line: Weightless requires a patient reader, one that is able to sift through the day to day banalities in order to see what is truly happening beneath the surface.  Those who can accomplish this will be treated to a disturbing (and fascinating) view of how many teens today treat one another and the danger of a society where image is everything, "good girls" are held on a pedestal and "boys will be boys".

Teaching/Parental Notes:

16 and up
Sex:  Kissing, Oral Sex, Sex between teenagers
Violence:  Fighting with a broken bottle
Inappropriate Language:  Fuck, Shit, Prick, Bitch, Piss, Slut, Whore, Dyke, Faggot
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking, Smoking, Marijuana Use
Other Issues: Bullying, Self Mutilation, Bulimia, Anorexia, Suicide

This and other reviews can also be found on Young Adult Books Central


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