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by Laura Ruby
HarperTeen, 2006
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Aug 15th 2006

Good Girls

There's a new trend in teen fiction to get more sexually explicit, and most of the books in this genre seem to be badly written (see the review of Rainbow Party in Metapsychology 10:19).  At first sight, Laura Ruby's Good Girls is just another example of this trend.  Audrey is a 16-year-old high school senior (she skipped a grade) who hooks up with her Luke (who isn't quite her boyfriend) and she is kneeling on the floor in an upstairs room giving him oral sex when someone comes in and takes a picture.  Soon the picture has been seen by everyone at school and has also been sent anonymously to her father.  Audrey is mortified and struggles to cope, and as she does so she talks more about sex with her friends.  By the end of the year, she has understood the different standards males and females are judged by, the importance of reputation, and the ways the she herself used to judge other girls as sluts.  In outline, the plot seems rather generic and similar to other books in the genre.  However, Ruby's writing is distinctly better than most other "young adult" authors and even though Good Girls is probably gives more detailed descriptions of Audrey's sexual activities than would be found in other books in this genre, it is not exploitative or cheapening.  If teens are going to read about sex (and of course they are) then Good Girls provides a thoughtful exploration of the issues, and is good read too.

What distinguishes Ruby's writing is her ability to give Audrey a little depth, complexity and hidden resources.  Her relationships with her parents are complex and sometimes difficult, but on the whole they are positive.  She makes new friends as the year goes along, and in doing so she discovers more about herself.  She was a straight A student before the photograph incident, and rather than hurt her grades, she studies harder afterwards, and does better in her classes.  Ruby also provides Audrey with a past that makes her more interesting.  At Christmas, when in the store, she starts saying "hey" to the plastic Jesuses, and this provokes her to think. 

Hey, baby.  It's what I used to say to my mom's stomach when she was pregnant with Henry.  I don't remember it; I read about it in a notebook I found hidden at the back of my mother's closet.  She was only pregnant for five months before she lost him.  The last entry in the book, the entry my mother wrote a few months after Henry died, said that I kept patting her belly, saying Hey baby, hey baby, Hey baby.  She wrote that the last time I said it, my father put his face in his hands and cried.  She wrote that I never said it again.

Audrey doesn't return to this again, but the paragraph makes her a richer character, and we are drawn to like her.  When she writes about her relationship with Luke, she does not hide her own feelings of physical longing and the excitement she felt about being with him.  She also is careful about the complex weaving of her lustful feeling with her liking of Luke and the affection she has for him.  Her friends talk about their relationships and complain how their boyfriends are self-centered, and the girls celebrate when one of them finds a boy who is able to please her.  So Ruby quietly sets out ideas of the importance of women's pleasure, double standards, and women's friendship, while at the same time setting her story in suburban New Jersey with a "good girl" lead character who goes to church every Sunday.  All this adds up to a worthwhile novel for mature teens who will not be shocked by frank yet relatively brief depictions of sexual activity.

 

© 2006 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.