Audrey is a good girl. A good student, she’s the daughter of loving parents, she has a couple of very close friends, she does well in school. She skipped an early grade in primary school and is a bit wrongly considered a ‘genius’. She’s not, but she’s very studious and completes all her homework well within the set limits – and always has. Although she attends parties and occasionally has a drink or two, she’s by no means a party animal. She’s had a boyfriend or two in her past but on the whole, she’s been basically innocent.
Until she started hooking up with the class hottie and reputed player, Luke DeSalvio. It started out innocently enough – chatting a party led to kissing. Kissing led to some groping behind a closed door. Before she knew it, she and Luke were finding each other at some stage at every party and getting to various bases. Despite this they never talk in school – Audrey is too shy to speak to him, because she doesn’t think he’s interested in anything more than some kisses in darkened rooms. And it’s well known he’s a flirt and a player so really, she should nip this in the bud before it gets out of control. So she vows to break off whatever this ‘thing’ is with Luke.
And she does – right after a little parting goodbye moment. Unfortunately for Audrey, someone happened to witness that private goodbye and snap a picture on their cellphone. And at school the following Monday, people start getting picture messages. Like wildfire, the picture of Audrey and Luke. It is clear it’s Audrey due to the costume she was wearing the night of the party and her very long blonde hair, even though the photo doesn’t show her face. It’s not evident that the boy in the picture is Luke but everyone knows that it is him.
Audrey is mortified when people begin laughing and pointing in school. The boys begin taunting her, asking ‘how much?’ But that is nothing – nothing compared to how she feels when she realises that the picture has been emailed to her own father at his work email address. Her parents are shocked and upset – they of course immediately want to know if it was consensual and then want to know when she got a boyfriend and how serious it is. Her mother makes her go to a gynecologist for an examination, which Audrey describes as the greatest argument for abstinence she’s ever encountered. Audrey then receives further humiliation when a teacher at school makes a snide comment about ‘expecting better from her’. Ostracised by even her friends, who didn’t know that she’d actually slept with Luke, labelled a ‘slut’, Audrey decides if you can’t beat them, join them. And she makes friends with the other girls branded ‘sluts’.
To make matters worse, Luke won’t even look at her let alone speak to her since the picture leaked. Even though she was ending whatever it was they had, Audrey didn’t realise how much she liked him and how much she wanted him to support her until he didn’t. So her and her friends embark on a new philosophy – boys are out. All they need is to reclaim themselves.
Good Girls has to be one of the frankest novels I’ve read of the young adult persuasion. Although it’s been a good decade since I was a teenager myself, I still remember the interactions at parties, the dynamics of friendships, the dynamics of hook ups versus relationships. Young adult novels are getting better and better at portraying these realistically but so far this novel has to be the most accurate. Too often lines are drawn in YA – our good girl protagonists are not really sexually active, or if they are it’s euphemistically with long-term boyfriends where it’s all a bit rosy and fade-to-black. This is not exactly the way it is these days and Good Girls is the first book I’ve read that portrays a girl hooking up with a boy she is not in a relationship with in a positive light.
Audrey is a great student, a wonderful daughter, a fantastic friend. Over a series of parties she hooks up with one boy each time, doing various things which she describes to the reader in fairly basic and blunt terms. During what is to be their last hook up, she performs oral sex on Luke and it is during this act that the picture is taken. She is immediately branded that famous word – ‘slut’ by most of the school, including some people that she considered to be friends.
What is interesting in that having being branded as one, Audrey, who doesn’t consider herself to be one, can see where she has gone wrong judging other girls in the past. She too is guilty of the whispers, the accusations, the derision towards other girls after rumours swirl. This is more than just a rumour, this is photographic evidence as seen by the whole school, her teachers, her principal, her parents, even the priest of the local church. I can’t imagine that sort of humiliation, yet Audrey soldiers on – she keeps going to school she holds her head up as high as she can and she tries to get on with her life.
This is the sort of book that teenagers and parents should read. The sort of novel that might teach teenagers that hey, it’s okay to be sexually active – there’s no shame in it. But in this day and age, where there are smart phones everywhere, you need to make some informed and intelligent choices. And it’s the sort of novel that might teach parents how to deal with the fact that their teenagers are growing up and making the choices to get involved with the opposite sex and not always in a way in which parents might approve or be comfortable with. Although very few parents might be confronted with the evidence in such a graphic way as Audrey’s parents but the way in which they react is actually quite admirable. They are shocked of course, and also appalled but they do try, really try, to deal with it in a way that does not impact on their relationship with Audrey. It takes her father longer than her mother, but they get there.
I heard great things about this book before I read it and I can definitely say that for me, it lived up to them. I think that it’s a fantastic portrayal of teen relationships and dynamics. I enjoyed Audrey thoroughly as a protagonist and thought that she was an ordinary girl who had the lack of luck to be caught out in a tough situation. She came through it and learned some things about herself, about her friends, and about Luke DeSalvio.
Book #25 of 2011