review by Kira Toal, age 16
Neighborhood Girls by Jessie Ann Foley
Wendy Boychuck has had a difficult junior year. Her series of unfortunate events begins when her father, a former Chicago cop, is arrested for his brutal treatment of prisoners. The Boychuck family becomes ostracized (even hated in some instances) by their neighbors, and so Wendy leaves her mild-mannered best friend, Alexis, and seeks refuge from a critical society with the mean girls of her strict Catholic school. She hikes up her skirt, abandons her books for lipstick and mascara, and sets out to rebuild her reputation. Jessie Ann Foley’s Neighborhood Girls follows Wendy Boychuck throughout her junior year in a novel about a conflicted girl regaining her lost identity.
When I opened Neighborhood Girls and read the summary on the inside cover, I was immediately intrigued. I am, after all, a junior at an all-girls, private, Catholic high school, so I imagined that the main character would be someone relatable—someone whom I could connect to and care about enough to feel engaged with the plot. I also imagined that Wendy’s ambivalence would manifest itself in a compelling inner struggle between her true self and the facade she wore to distract herself and others from her grim home life. I was wrong on both accounts.
Wendy’s past and her relationship with her father both intrigued me and laid the foundation for a complex character with great development. However, Wendy remained somewhat of a Mary Sue throughout the novel, and I felt that her character development was unfinished. The supporting characters, too, were forgettable archetypes. As I write this review, I struggle to remember even their names. In my head, the list of relevant characters remains as follows: Wendy, Mean Girl, Former Best Friend, and Love Interest. There was so much potential for intricate, compelling dynamics between characters, and in a book with as little action (or plot) as Neighborhood Girls, those relationships are crucial.
I crossed my fingers when I began the first chapter of this book. I prayed that the book would respect Catholic high schools, and would somehow find a way to depict them without making every teacher an authoritarian nun and every student a “bad girl” whose parents sent her to the school as punishment for her delinquency. Although Mean Girl (a.k.a. Kenzie Quintana) turned out to be such a perfect example of the latter that it was nearly ironic, I felt that the “Catholic school” trope actually worked well for Neighborhood Girls. Wendy’s faith and her love/hate relationship with the environment her school provided were addressed little throughout the story, but when they did make an appearance, I felt genuinely sympathetic towards Wendy. Had the story’s plot been focused more on the nuance between the “faith” forced upon her by her religious high school and the faith she had in her father despite his crimes, I would have been much more engaged.
When I finish a book that I loved and enjoyed, I turn the last page slowly, as if I’m savoring every last morsel of the plot. I close the book gently, I stare at the cover, and I sit for a moment in reflection. When I finished Neighborhood Girls, I quickly shut it and tossed it onto my couch, instantly forgetting almost everything I had just read. The book felt unimportant, which drove me absolutely insane because it had so much potential. All of the puzzle pieces were there; Jessie Ann Foley just forgot to put them together. I give this book 1.5 stars (for as I said, the book did have some potential). I would like to acknowledge, however, that a slow paced, coming-of-age story laced with teen romance is not my cup of tea. Please do be aware that my own preferences may have made me especially impatient with this novel. That being said, Neighborhood Girls is still flawed beyond belief. 1.5 stars.
Find this book in our catalog: Neighborhood Girls
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