Publication Date: September 1st 2010
Natalie Sterling wants to be in control. She wants her friends to be loyal. She wants her classmates to elect her student council president. She wants to find the right guy, not the usual jerk her school has to offer. She wants a good reputation, because she believes that will lead to good things.
But life is messy, and it's very hard to be in control of it. Not when there are freshman girls running around in a pack, trying to get senior guys to sleep with them. Not when your friends have secrets they're no longer comfortable sharing. Not when the boy you once dismissed ends up being the boy you want to sleep with yourself - but only in secret, with nobody ever finding out.
Slut or saint? Winner or loser? Natalie is getting tired of these forced choices - and is now going to find a way to live life in the sometimes messy, sometimes wonderful in-between.
I have been sitting here, staring at my computer screen for a very long time, watching the cursor blink and not really knowing what I want to say -- or perhaps it is that I don't know how to say everything I want to say. I want to be writing a review of a different book. The book I thought this was. The book I think Siobhan Vivian meant to write. I am going to take a flying leap of faith with my assumptions and describe the book I think Vivian meant this to be: This was supposed to be a book of messages to young girls everywhere, teaching them what feminism really is and what it really means, showing them that they are all feminists (or at least should be). It was supposed to highlight a lot of the ways that we ladies fail ourselves and each other on our journey to equality. It was supposed to set up common stereotypes of feminists as strawmen, then burn those stereotypes down to the truth underneath. Not That Kind of Girl was supposed to be really amazing, which made Vivian's failure to deliver all that much harder to take. Here are the primary ways I think Vivian failed in the execution of her ideas:
- Natalie is clueless about much of the history of the feminist movement, especially for someone who considers herself qualified to lead discussions about feminism for her classmates. She is beyond just man-hating into people-hating in her quest for completely independent success. She looks down on everyone around her, refuses their help as insufficient or unworthy, and demands an even higher unnatural level of perfection from herself. She is also completely and selfishly insensitive in her interactions with Autumn, the only person who would count as a friend rather than a project or a mentor. It feels like, in Natalie, Vivian just adds more nasty layers to the man-hating feminazi stereotype, while failing to ever adequately address them.
- Spencer was supposed to be (again, I think) an example of a sex-positive feminist that fights against slut-shaming. And, in some ways, I guess she does. Some of the best, most positive things said in this book come from Spencer at the lock-in. However, there is a BIG difference between a young woman who owns her sexuality and feels positively about herself, and a young woman who uses her body to get attention and reinforcement from others. Spencer never feels comfortable or complete by herself in this book; she always needs affirmation of her worth from someone else -- whether that is Mike, Natalie, or the guys in the hall. And here is the kicker for me -- she is FOURTEEN years old!!! I think the important question to ask is, HOW and WHY a girl this young learned to be this proficient at using her body to build her feelings of confidence and self worth. Vivian does sex-positive feminist ideals no favors with her portrayal of Spencer.
- The guys. Oh, goodness, the guys in this book! None of them -- not even Connor -- are well written. Feminism isn't about being elevated above men, but rather about achieving equality for all individuals -- regardless of sex or gender. Equality would be some of the males in Natalie's life being something other than douche-bags or door-mats. In Not That Kind of Girl, there really is no in-between. Mike should be brought up on statutory rape charges; Connor needs some self-confidence because he deserves way better than Natalie gives him; and Principal Hurley needs, at best, to take some sensitivity training classes or, at worst, needs to be fired for being a chauvinistic ass who unfairly distributes discipline.
- So, taking the first and third points from above, let's now talk about the romance between Natalie and Connor. Or perhaps not, because there wasn't any. Natalie was using making out, and finally sex, with Connor as a distraction from the inflated responsibilities she put upon herself. Connor was making out and having sex with a girl that showed him absolutely no respect, going so far as to not acknowledge him in public. They felt awkward around each other when not kissing, and rarely talked about anything that was important to either one of them. There is nothing healthy or romantic about this relationship. I get that Vivian was trying to say that you can have a healthy relationship while still being a strong and independent female, but there is just so much wrong with the sexual relationship portrayed that I think her message gets lost.
Despite all these issues, though, Not That Kind of Girl still managed to be a pretty decent read. I enjoyed it, and really wanted Vivian to successfully get to where she was trying to go. I genuinely liked Connor and Autumn, and wouldn't have minded reading more about them. It is only upon reflection (and yet more reflection) that my concerns about her portrayal of feminist issues overrode my enjoyment of her story.
Rating: 3 of 5 stars ~ I liked it! I wouldn’t reread it, but I enjoyed it.
Review also appears on Goodreads; I purchased my copy for Nook from Barnes and Noble.