Dis­turb­ing com­ing-of-age story

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads -

(not even to her psy­chol­o­gist) about what she did, we don’t even see her giv­ing a whole lot of thought about what she has done and how the peo­ple around her have been af­fected. To make mat­ters worse, she is even­tu­ally let off the hook when some­one else’s even more rep­re­hen­si­ble ac­tions are re­vealed. Her re­sponse to this re­prieve con­firms that, by the end of the novel, Au­drey has be­come more of a self­ish brat than she was at the start. Com­ing-of-age, my saggy old arse!

I’m sure you can tell by now that I am more than a lit­tle dis­turbed by Sad Girls. It’s not so much its prob­lem­atic premise and sub­ject mat­ter that bother me, but the way they are in­ad­e­quately ad­dressed. Surely Leav’s fans de­serve more than just a gloss­ing over of tragedy, a cur­sory glance at men­tal ill­ness, a sim­plis­tic pre­sen­ta­tion of be­reave­ment and grief?

There are some dark and dif­fi­cult is­sues raised in this novel and they de­serve to be looked at more closely, to be ex­plored more thor­oughly. Sadly, Leav seems to pri­ori­tise cre­at­ing a dream ex­is­tence for her pro­tag­o­nist. Once again, I think that this feeds into the es­capist fan­tasies of her read­ers and I find it un­set­tling be­cause the string of fab­u­lous op­por­tu­ni­ties that present them­selves to Au­drey are never just dis­trac­tions that she has to even­tu­ally turn away from in or­der to face re­al­ity; they keep on com­ing, hint­ing that Au­drey can con­tinue to ig­nore the truth and that some­thing shiny and won­der­ful will al­ways fall into her lap and make the un­pleas­ant­ness go away.

Not only is the plot im­plau­si­ble but the char­ac­ters are shal­low and poorly de­vel­oped, their phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance de­scribed in minute de­tail, their ac­tions, es­pe­cially when melo­dra­matic and de­struc­tive, given space, but their mo­ti­va­tions skimmed over or com­pletely ig­nored.

It seems that what’s on the page must al­ways be mo­men­tous, ex­cit­ing, sexy. This, in it­self, is not the prob­lem. The prob­lem is that the drama is all just un­ex­am­ined spec­ta­cle. It’s not a way to get into the story; it’s not there to re­veal the depths of Au­drey’s soul; it’s not so we will un­der­stand her vile ac­tions, or the hor­ri­fy­ing de­ci­sion the dead girl’s boyfriend makes, or the book’s mad, to­tally screwed-up de­noue­ment. If only.

If only Leav had spent some para­graphs look­ing for an­swers; if only her char­ac­ters had done some deep soul search­ing. She doesn’t, they don’t, and thus, even Twi­light’s Bella Swan ends up look­ing like a fas­ci­nat­ing and com­pli­cated per­son next to Au­drey and her friends.

Then there’s the writ­ing. It’s bad, es­pe­cially the clumsy sim­i­les and metaphors that seem to be there just for ef­fect: “I am a poet and my fans ex­pect me to paint pic­tures with my words.”

Here is my “favourite”: “It felt like at that mo­ment, ev­ery snowflake in that field was a teardrop and the whole world was cry­ing for her.”

But what of­fends me the most about the book is Leav’s de­scrip­tion of the sui­cide. No spoil­ers, but days af­ter fin­ish­ing the book, I’m still think­ing about it and won­der­ing: Was Leav care­less or sneaky? Couldn’t she both­ered to do some re­search? Or was this her idea of a twisted joke? Ei­ther way, I think it was un­for­giv­able of her.

It’s the fi­nal nail in the cof­fin that I’m pack­ing Sad Girls away in.

Lang Leav An­drews McMeel Pub­lish­ing, young adult fic­tion

Photo: CHAN TAK KONG/The Star

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