Destiny is 17 and her family is a mess. Her mother is mentally ill and is getting worse. Her father is hardly communicating with anyone and seems very distant, focused on his work and avoiding the family. Her little sister is also turning in on herself, talking to an imaginary friend. There is a boy who is interested in Destiny, but she can't cope with anything more than her family right now. In fact, she is feeling overwhelmed. She hopes that her grandmother will come to visit, but her father says that would only cause trouble. In Bad Girls Club, life gets worse before it will get better.
Gregerson's novel for young adults delves into difficult territory that is largely unexplored. Many children grow up with one or both of their parents having mental illness, and it isn't easy. It means learning to be independent earlier than most of your peers, learning to protect yourself, and doing what you can to get your parent help. Children may not understand what is going on, but they know that their parents are not emotionally available to them. They may grow up expecting all relationships to be like that.
So Bad Girls Club raises important issues. I wish it were an easier book to read: I didn't warm to the theme of the family secret about Destiny's mother's childhood, which may or may not be the cause of her later mental problems. Some parts of the book are difficult simply because they are emotionally raw: when the mother is angry and violent, it does feel as if she might do anything. But in order to keep the momentum, readers need more to keep them going. Destiny herself is a rather blank character, and the reader does not know much about what she likes to do, what her tastes in movies, friends, or music are. It feels as if all her family troubles have made it impossible for her to have any other side to her life, but that makes the book unrelenting in its episodes of conflict and worry. It would help for there to be something to provide a balance and keep the reader going.
It's possible that other readers closer to Destiny's age will find it easier to identify with her and so will be more drawn into her story. The number of positive reviews of the book on Amazon.com suggest that that they will. I also suspect that the book would work well in audio form, but, unfortunately, there isn't one available so far.
© 2008 Christian Perring
Link: Judy Gregerson website
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.