Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes
Publication Date: May 17, 2016
Rating: 4 stars
Source: eARC from Edelweiss
Summary (from Goodreads):
Maguire is bad luck.
No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the rollercoaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.
It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid meeting new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away is harder than she thought.
From author Paula Stokes comes a funny and poignant novel about accepting the past, embracing the future, and learning to make your own luck.
What I Liked:
I'd like to start my review by saying that this book was not nearly as difficult to read as I'd expected. See, the thing is, I do not like to read books that focus on "tough issues", such as mental health, or rape, or suicide, or depression. Fiction is a means of escape for me, and reading those difficult (yet SO significant) issues makes me incredibly discouraged and sad, no matter the outcome of the book. Girl Against the Universe is about a girl suffering from a number of mental illnesses, such as PTSD and OCD; it's also about a boy trying to figure out what's best for himself, and not what everyone else wants from him. I honestly wasn't all that interested in this book, because I thought it would be on those typical heavy YA contemporary novels that I try to avoid. But, I'm glad I gave the book a shot, because I did like it a lot.
I'm counting this as this month's Pili-Pushed novel, even though I downloaded the book from Edelweiss before needing a push... I've read Stokes' other five novels, and for the most part, liked them. To see other Pili-Pushed recommendations, click on the "Pili-Pushed" tag!
Maguire is convinced that her mere presence puts people in danger. Years ago, she was in a car accident in which her father (the driver), uncle, and older brother died, but she did not get hurt at all. A series of extraordinary events followed, in which everyone but Maguire was hurt in some way. Maguire doesn't like to use public transportation, or being in a car with others. She constantly checks for potential hazards, and has all kinds of good luck charms and rituals. She's been doing great, no accidents lately; she's also been a granite wall to her therapist. But meeting Jordy changes everything for Maguire. Can she trust herself to be around him, or is her bad luck going to strike once again?
Maguire is a strange girl, as we see from the very first chapter. We meet Maguire in her therapist's office, in which she is dodging his questions and being cryptic and not talkative and basically wasting everyone's time. Leaving the session, she meets the therapist's next patient, a boy who won't tell her who he is, but wants her to help him with his therapy session "homework". As it would turn out, he's Jordy, a famous junior tennis player, and guess what else? Maguire had decided to join the tennis team (she used to play), as part of her goals (she isolates herself, so joining the tennis team is a huge step for her). She and Jordy becomes friends.
I liked Maguire almost immediately. I was a tiny bit surprised because often I'll be frustrated with the protagonist of a YA contemporary "tough issues" novel, but I really felt for Maguire. She has all these coping mechanisms in the form of good luck charms, and she selectively blames herself for things out of her control. Logically, you're probably thinking, that's ridiculous! I would probably be thinking that too; but you can really see Maguire's state of mind, and understand what she's thinking and why. I think Stokes did a really good job of making Maguire who she is, and in an authentic and interesting way.
Our other protagonist, Jordy, is equally as complex and strange and interesting. This book is told from Maguire's first-person POV, but we get to experience Jordy's character development parallel to Maguire's. Jordy is a tennis star whose parents dictate every aspect of his life. He's a people pleaser, so he doesn't fight it. But he's been seeing the therapist because he feels like "tennis Jordy" and "real Jordy" are two completely different personalities, and he doesn't know who he really is. Seeing Jordy work through his problems (familial and otherwise) is just as wonderful as seeing Maguire do the same. Both characters have been through so much, and work hard to overcome.
Did I mention that this book isn't as heavy as you'd think? Don't get me wrong, Stokes really REALLY captured PTSD and OCD, and portrayed the illnesses not how one would think (OCD isn't just straightening pages or matching corners). But the book wasn't constantly bogged down by tragic and heartbreaking event after tragic and heartbreaking event. Maguire's (and Jordy's) story is quite uplifting, with plenty of mountains and valleys.
Of course there is a little romance in this book! Maguire and Jordy are cute and sweet together. Maguire doesn't think she's ready for a relationship, and she's also heard certain things about Jordy. But I like how Jordy is a totally *real* guy; he's also very straightforward and tells her he likes her as more than a friend (in my experience, guys are not so direct). Jordy is a sweetie, a patient and kind person who probably gives nice guys. I love this pair!
Tennis! My favorite sport (well, it's a tie with soccer). I love seeing sports play a big role in YA novels, especially featuring a female athlete protagonist (and in this book, also a male one). Maguire is pretty hardcore! Not as hardcore as Jordy though. Being a huge tennis fan, I loved following all the tennis speak!
Overall, I'm pretty satisfied with this book. Of Stokes' three books, this would be my favorite. Of the author's six books (three of which are under her pen name), it'd probably be tied with Starling (I REALLY liked Starling). My next Stokes book is Vicarious!
What I Did Not Like:
This could totally just be me, but I thought the climax was a little cliche? Maybe cliche is a bad word for what I'm thinking. Like, the climax just seemed like one of those scenes that unfolds and you're just like, of COURSE that happens, because duh, it just happened to be that way... it seemed way too obvious of a climax and I'm kind of disappointed that the author took that route. But this is a small (Alyssa) thing; I think the climax worked with the story, but it seemed cliche.
Would I Recommend It:
If you like YA contemporary, I'd recommend this book. I don't like and recommend too many YA tough-issue contemporary novels, so I'd like to say that it probably means something, that I'm recommending this book. *nudges*
4 stars. A cute, not-so-heavy, important novel on making your own destiny and taking the reins of your life. I'd love to read an epilogue featuring Jordy and Maguire!
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