I love a lot of things about Courtney Summers’ books, but one of the things I love the most is her titles. They’re usually phrases, or portions of, that trigger immediate recognition. Titles that sort of set up the journey you’re about to experience. This is Not a Test was serious and challenging with no turning back. Crack Up to Be lets you know that this isn’t going to be the story you think, or possibly want it to be. Some Girls Are also sets the tone for the novel. You know, just know, that you’re going to encounter characters in this novel that you are not going to like. There’s no way this phrase is going to be Some Girls are Awesome. Or Some Girls are Super friendly. This is going to be a book about those girls who just are. They are everything on the spectrum – to the extreme. Some girls are the best and the worst. It’s the only way they know how to exist. Other girls are just trying to figure what they are so that they can exist.
Summers captures these girls perfectly. Especially the girls that embody all the best qualities in order to hide how awful they truly are. Anna is the ring leader. The girl who everyone wants to be. That every guy wants to bang. That everyone hates – even her friends. Anna is terrible. Absolutely terrible. She possesses this pseudo confidence hoisted on her by people that think she deserves it. But internally, eventually, she’s going to realize that what she is is fake. She makes herself feel better by making everyone else around her feel terrible. Props herself up on the shoulders of the people she destroys. She does this by using her number two. This has always been Regina. And Regina has really enjoyed her role. In a way. She’s always just done it. She’s tortured the girls who needed to lose weight until they developed eating disorders. Boys who reject Anna until they’re social pariahs. She’s driven former friends so far down that they’ve attempted suicide. And she’s done it all because Anna told her to, and you don’t question Anna. Even when you know she’s wrong. But now, now Regina has fucked up. And she’s got to pay for it. And this is where the novel turns dark. Into something more than just a mean girls novel.
The darkness in this novel comes from how easily people turn against each other, and the things we’ll do to prevent that from happening. The punishment we’re willing to dish out to others and ourselves to make sure we’re in the good graces of the people that matter. In Regina’s case, not only does she torture others, but she also inflicts pain on herself. She’s so desperate to keep her position in the group that she’s developed a physical inability to eat. The problem is so bad, she’s had to see a therapist. She essentially lives on antacids. She doesn’t do it for weight loss. Her disorder isn’t from that. It’s her body turning against her. This is stress related. And the girl has done it to herself. So, if she’s willing to let her physical health get this bad, what could she possibly have done to change that? What would she let turn Anna against her? Regina’s fortunes turn when Anna’s boyfriend tries to rape her (Regina not Anna).
In her distraught state, Regina turns to Kara, one of the other girls in the group. A girl she hates and who hates her. These two friends who loath each other. Regina has gone out of her way in the past to destroy Kara. And Kara relishes in turning everyone against Regina. Turning Regina into the school whore. In making Regina the subject of a campaign of social terror. Sounds a little overdramatic doesn’t it? But it’s not. Our teen years are the most formative time in our lives and that means our social situation can become a nightmare in a split second. We are at our most vulnerable in those years and that can bring out our worst qualities. And for some kids, that fear of failure turns on the mean. And in a few short days, Regina goes from second in command to total social outcast.
I want to briefly talk about what this novel says about rape culture. I don’t know if this was something Summers wanted people to focus on, but how can we not – especially as women. What does it say about the girls we are raising that they would believe that a friend would lie about a rape? That their default belief would be to call this girl a whore before they would believe that a popular boy with a girlfriend would attempt rape? What are we teaching boys that Regina’s boyfriend would brush off her claims of rape? The event that turns Regina’s friends against her should have been the moment that brought them the closest. But instead, she ends up as the brunt of the joke – even after people start to believe her.
What does Regina do now? Now that people are so pleased to see her getting her comeuppance? Here’s another thing I like that Summers does – she doesn’t let her characters get immediate redemption – or any sometimes. Regina ends up sitting with Michael – a classmate she and Anna and company made sure became a social outcast. Michael eventually takes her in, but it takes him a while to get over his hatred for her. The relationship between Regina and Michael really makes us look at the idea of forgive and forget. Does it work? Can it ever? Some things are simply impossible to forget. Are too important to forget. How can Michael ever forget what Regina did to him? Her treatment of him was crucial to the formation of his personality. Of who he probably becomes as an adult. To forget the things she did would be to forget himself. And can we ever truly forgive something that engrained? It’s written on our bodies. In our skin. Our emotions. In everything. Real pain shapes who we become just as much as real joy. But Michael shows that there are different paths than the one taken by the terrible girls at the centre of this story. He eventually moves beyond the terrible and sees the new girl Regina is trying to be. He allows her to begin to grow in to her new person. He’s working on the forgiveness, but here’s where that pesky forget part trips everything up – he can never really trust her. He’s always waiting for the other shoe to drop. And when Regina appears to have gone back to Anna, he has to believe it’s true. He has to believe that she’s gone back to the girl she was before. That she can’t forget who she was.
Regina’s return to the popular girls is my favourite part of the novel. I say favourite not in the sense of loving the actions, but in the sense of loving that Summers went there. The meanest and most diabolical punishment/bullying scheme I’ve ever read in YA fiction. Anna forces Regina to come back into the fold. To take her place as second girl again, just when everyone is starting to thing Regina might not be so terrible. It makes her even worse in their eyes than she was before. That she would let Anna treat her the way she did and then go running back to her. And just when Michael is starting to fall for her. Just when Regina is starting to get her life back. And if she doesn’t do it, Anna will release information that will get Michael into serious trouble with the cops. So, Regina is actually starting to change. She is becoming a better person. She doesn’t want to hurt him, but this is the only way. Regina is willing to suffer in order to make sure he doesn’t. She is willing to take the pain in order to save someone else. It’s her turning point.
There are two kinds of people in this book – the people who take the pain and revel in it and the people that take the pain and grow from it. Regina is the central character. She starts as the former, but eventually starts to become the latter. Anna is the most popular student. And she’s the instigator of everything in the novel. But Liz and Michael – they are the stars. They are the characters who have been through wringer and have learned from it. They have learned how to take their pain and turn it around. They’re the characters that I hope we’re trying to teach teens to be – not Liz’s suicide part obviously. The kind of kids that eventually realize that great moments can come from truly terrible events.
This book hit my right in the high school insecurities. Maybe it’s because high school wasn’t easy for me. I never experienced anything like what Regina went through, but it wasn’t smooth sailing. It’s been a long (long) time since those were part of my life, and I’m now in a place where I’m completely confident with who I am, but reading this book definitely nudged at those old feelings. You know that saying – high school is the best years of your life – man, how wrong that is. I actually feel sorry for people who genuinely believe that those few short years will be the best of a life that will hopefully last for decades after you leave. That that percentage of years would constitute as the best… what a horrible thought, especially when for most people, it’s among the worst. This is what makes Courtney Summers a master at what she does. She writes about those terrible insecurities in a way most other authors don’t. There’s no sugarcoating. There’s just a direct spotlight focused on the things that make getting through school so terrible. I’ve read, and loved, two other Summers books, but this one is something different. It is the darkest of the bunch. It is a reminder that strength comes from knowing that eventually – as trite as it sounds – things get better, but you have to let them. You have to believe that some girls, some girls are worth it – it might just take us some time to get there.