[Review] What Kind of Girl by Alyssa Sheinmel

The girls at North Bay Academy are taking sides. It all started when Mike Parker’s girlfriend showed up with a bruise on her face. Or, more specifically, when she walked into the principal’s office and said Mike hit her. But the students have questions. Why did she go to the principal and not the police? Why did she stay so long if he was hurting her? Obviously, if it’s true, Mike should be expelled. But is it true?

Some girls want to rally for his expulsion β€” and some want to rally around Mike. The only thing that the entire student body can agree on? Someone is lying. And the truth has to come out.

Genre(s): YA, Contemporary
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on February 4, 2020
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Representation: (click to show)

Jewish MC, biracial (Mexican Catholic & Eastern European Jewish) WLW MC with diagnosed anxiety & OCD, F/F relationship, socioeconomic diversity, minor character with unspecified learning disability

Content warnings: (click to show)

dating/domestic abuse, explicit absence of consent (in relationship), bulimia, internalized body-shaming, descriptions of self-harm (cutting), on-page panic attack, self-medication (marijuana, non-prescription drugs), underage drinking & sex, infidelity, ableist language, slut-shaming

I received a review copy of this book through Netgalley; all opinions are my own and honest.

What kind of girl stays after her boyfriend hits her? What kind of girl gets hit in the first place?

It’s not at all an exaggeration to say that this book is An Experience in the best possible way. Although at the onset I had a bit of a rough time getting into this, it all started to come together by the end of part one. As part two unfolded, I found myself reevaluating the situation and my initial impressions; part three went straight for my heart and had me literally tearing up.

The prose is very stream-of-consciousness, which won’t appeal to all readers but which I found perfectly fitting. It’s a messy, confusing situation, and that hits home through the narrators’ struggle with what to think and how to react to everything going on. (Some of the parentheticals are a bit much, but otherwise the writing flows almost effortlessly.)

All the portrayed relationships are nuanced and relatable, but I want to point out the parent/child relationships in particular because I so rarely see them done this well. YA lit is full of abusive and absent adults, so it was especially poignant to see flawed but well-meaning parents in this novel. Adolescence is a time when you’re in between depending on and wanting to be free of your parents, which makes for a tricky dynamic; and yet each of the parents is a complex, distinct character with a complex, distinct relationship with their child.

Some of the social justice themes are pretty blunt, but it is an integral part of the narrative. Apparently sensitivity and thoughtfulness is “practically in the school catalog”, and it shows: the students pride themselves on believing the victim, though they’re conflicted on whether that’s Mike or his girlfriend. They’re not perfect. It’s frustrating, and it’s completely true to life.

Finally, this really isn’t all that important (especially compared to the weightier topics in this book), but the NorCal representation made me so happy! California isn’t all beaches and sunshine, especially in the northern part, yet I so rarely see books that acknowledge this.

5 stars

Conversion: 13.6 / 15 = 5 stars

Prose: 9 / 10
Characters & Relationships: 10 / 10
Emotional Impact: 10 / 10
Development/Flow: 9 / 10
Setting: 8 / 10

Diversity & Social Themes: 5 / 5
Intellectual Engagement: 4 / 5
Originality/Trope Execution: 4 / 5
Memorability: 5 / 5

7 thoughts on “[Review] What Kind of Girl by Alyssa Sheinmel

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