I just finished Boys, Girls & Other Hazardous Materials by Rosalind Wiseman, and boy, talk about a book we can all relate to on one level or another! Rosalind Wiseman (author of Queen Bees & Wannabes) is an expert on the teenage social hierarchy, and she doesn’t miss a single opportunity to address an issue in this book. Nearly every character is someone you knew in high school, including the adults, and all of the social interactions are familiar, for better or worse.
The gist of the story is that Charlie Healey is starting her freshman year at a high school one town over, after escaping a not-so-proud past in a middle school where she failed to stand up to her “frenemies” when it really mattered. Now she has promised herself she will start over and do the whole friendship thing right this time. But just when she has that part under control, she gets an up close look at boys behaving badly amongst themselves, in the form of hazing on a prominent sports team at the school. The younger boys accept it because they want to be on the team. The older boys propagate it because it’s tradition and it’s their opportunity for the payback they’ve been waiting for since it happened to them. And the administration turns a blind eye because the team is poised to win big this year, the school’s image is at stake, and after all, they are just “boys being boys”, right? Ack! A hazing incident takes a dangerous turn, and Charlie is forced to decide whether to tell what she knows or keep quiet to protect her potential boyfriend.
The author says in her credits that she used teens that she works with as editors to keep the voice authentic, and it shows. Each character, even the minor ones, represents someone you probably know, and a potential discussion. There is the Indian girl who is Hindu, but a group of insensitive sophomores insist on referring to her as Muslim. She also talks about her parents who won’t allow her to wear what she wants to a dance, and are prejudiced against white people. There is the editor of the school paper, who has the potential to be a great athlete, but a likely hazing incident (possibly related to the fact that the teammates think he is gay) led to his departure from the sport. There is Charlie’s older brother who agrees that the hazing was wrong, but knows from experience that nothing is likely to happen to the perpetrators, so advises her to not rock the boat by telling on them. There is the perpetrator of much of the hazing, who is a jock so full of himself that he hits on other girls in front of his girlfriend. She is so desperate to keep him that she does nothing about it–what a pair! In any case, in all of the YA reading I have been doing lately, I don’t often see each and every character so deliberately drawn, and I like it.
I also appreciate the little messages directed specifically at the girls and the little things their moms are always telling them. Page one has a reference to maintaining perspective about “skinny girls constantly complaining about how fat they are”. And that’s all. Nice little mention, and there is no further need to dwell on it, since the moment it is over-hyped, the teen reader will shut it out, right? One of the storylines emphasizes girls valuing their relationships with each other over boys that come and go. Charlie’s friend Sydney uses a great line that I can’t quote entirely here, as it involves a male body part: “Chicks before [insert rhyming word here]!”
All in all, if you are looking for a conversation starter, and as long as you don’t tell your daughter WHY you want to read this book together (because if she is like mine, she will run for the hills if she knows my motives!), it would be a great chance to bond over a book, and pick out a few things to discuss along the way. I’m sure you will both see some people or situations you know, and you’ll probably enjoy the story too!
Please join StorySnoops in support of the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, September 25th-October 2nd. We are so excited to announce that our site will be running an interview series all week. Our guests will include blogging librarians Abby the Librarian, Mighty Little Librarian and Ms. Yingling Reads, plus Reading Is Fundamental President and CEO Carol Rasco. And don’t miss three of our favorite authors who have graciously agreed to share their thoughts: Ellen Hopkins, Meg Cabot and Judy Blume! Stay tuned!