Courtney Summers is one of my favorite authors, and I felt inspired the other day to pick up one of her earlier novels, the mean-girls-in-high-school based Some Girls Are. And it's just as good and as gripping as I remembered.
When Regina is nearly raped by her best friend's boyfriend at a party, she is certain that her friends will support her. Instead, they accuse her of lying about a hookup and freeze her out in revenge. With the campaign of bullying worsening every day and the whole school seeming to enjoy mean girl Regina's "comeuppance," Regina turns to school outcast Michael -- a boy who is only an outcast because of Regina's own bullying campaign.
Courtney Summers has written frequently about how she wanted to write challenging, unlikeable female characters, the sort that you're not supposed to write, and the sort nobody's supposed to want to read about. And she certainly succeeded in Some Girls Are. Regina is a pretty horrible person. "Mean Girl" doesn't really capture the extent of the things she's done in her role as second-in-command to Queen Bee Anna. She's a bully. She's spread vicious, life-destroying rumors about classmates, and her cruel bullying campaigns are legendary -- especially the time when she cut out one of her former best friends and nearly drove her to suicide, simply because Anna told her to.
Let's be clear: Regina isn't the nice person somehow dragged along by her meaner friends. She isn't a reluctant player here. She is horrid. She is buckling under the pressure of being hated by pretty much everybody in her school, and her guilt is tearing her up from the inside, but that certainly isn't going to change how she acts. The only reason she begins to reflect on her actions, and possibly even feel true regret, is because she is cast out by her friends and made to face the very same treatment that she's inflicted on others for so long. Yet somehow, she's compelling. She is deeply, deeply flawed, deeply unlikeable. But she undergoes some very human struggles through the book, and her character development is gripping.
Be warned, the book doesn't flinch away from its topics. It's an anxious, tense read, rather than a comfortable one, and some moments are so stressful and horrid that it made me feel a bit sick to read them. But it's so good. Psychologically tough and fascinating, emotionally gruelling, raising visceral reactions to characters good.
If you're looking for a contemporary novel with a not-exactly-typical female protagonist, this is definitely one to check out.