Thursday, March 26, 2009

REVIEW: Getting the Girl

Juby, S. (2008). Getting the Girl: A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance, and Cookery. New York: HarperTeen.


Not to be confused with (My future husband) Markus Zusak’s YA novel Getting the Girl which focuses on the relationship between two Australian brothers, THIS Getting the Girl is set in a school where girls are occasionally declared “defiled” and considered ghostly outcasts. Fearing that his crush may be the next girl to be defiled, ninth grader, Sherman Mack decides to investigate who does the defiling and why.

Humorous and well written, this mystery reminded me of the works of John Green (another would-be husband, but alas, he didn’t wait for me and has already gotten married), but a little younger and a little lighter. The book includes quirky characters, many great lines and some social commentary.

One of the other things that I also like about this book is that not all of the characters are assumed to be middle class. Sherman doesn’t know who his father is and his mom is a bartender interested in burlesque dancing (Quirky!) who got pregnant when she was sixteen.

Juby seemed to do a good job of writing from a boy’s perspective. Of course, my ability to judge this is limited, what with not being a boy either. Most of Sherman’s masculinity is expressed through being attracted to various female characters. Despite that, this book is begging to be examined in terms of the way gender is constructed.(particularly since girls are often considered potential victims).

While I think this book would be perfect for eighth or ninth graders, the length of the book (341 pages) could scare a lot of students that age away. But at the same time, not many eleventh or twelfth graders will want to read about a ninth grader. Plus a few secondary characters smoke pot, another character is a dealer.

Activities to do with the book:

Since the word defiled is used to describe the girls cast out of the high school social scene, a great project would be to research the significance of the word defiling among different cultures and ethnic groups. Who or what gets defiled in different societies and why? Does the fact that only girls had been ‘defiled’ previously at the start of the novel seem significant thinking both historically and in contemporary society?
(As a side note, I went to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary: the super-dictionary for super-nerds which considers word origin and shifts in meaning). Apparently, the word ‘defile’ has been around in English since the 1400s.)

Also, after reading this book and given the right context, maybe a teacher could provoke an honest conversation about school cliques in schools within literature circles. They can consider how socio-economic status influence the popularity and power of various characters.

This book could start a discussion on the theme of transgression in literature, since Sherman transgresses gender roles and social groups.

If a teacher ever examined mystery and detective novels with high school students, this novel could be paired with a Raymond Chandler novel, the movie Brick, or the TV show Veronica Mars, or other detective narrative.

Favorite Quotes (There were a lot to choose from, so I went with those quotes that made me chuckle, giggle, laugh out loud, cackle, snort, etc.):

“I am very interested in girls. I actually study them. I am almost like a scholar of women. My friend Vanessa says I’m a scholar of stalking, but she’s quite cynical, probably from all her crime reading which has given her an abnormally dark view of life” (p. 15).

“You’ll be happy to hear that Sherman is finally going to do something useful with his life” (p. 64).

“My masculine esteem didn’t appreciate that very much” (p. 66).

To help pass the time, I tried meditating. Our health teacher says deep breathing can help with the stress of being an adolescent, but in my experience it just makes me think about girls” (p. 70).

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