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The Geography of Girlhood is
a short novel in verse, about a teen girl who runs away from home with her
older boyfriend.† Writer Kirsten Smith has previously worked on several
screenplays for Hollywood teen movies, including Legally Blonde, 10
Things I Hate About You, and She's the Man, but this is her first
novel.† Penny's mother has left the home and abandoned the family, so Penny is
filled with a sense of loss as she goes through important events in her life
that she can't talk to her mother about.† (Of course, most teens don't talk to
their parents about what happens in their lives, but that doesn't reduce
Penny's melancholy.)† Penny does not get on well with her older sister, who
also gets into trouble.† Penny also does not do well at school and she reacts
badly to her father getting remarried, so it isn't so surprising when her life
goes off the rails and she goes to the extreme of leaving home, like her mother
It is the dysfunction that makes
Smith's story unusual.† Unfortunately, she doesn't convey a wide emotional
range with her verse.† She makes a friend at school and she is pleased, and
suddenly she likes her math work.† Her step brother reads her diary and she is
mad at him, but he says "I like tacos, too," but they don't manage to
connect with each other.† Penny is alienated from most people around her, so
the temptation of going with a boy is great for her.† But despite the verse
form, the emotions seem mundane.† For one example, when a friend of hers dies,
she writes this small poem:
In big cities, kids die all the
So when someone dies in a small
it's like you lose
all at once.
Maybe the effect is meant to be slightly shocking, but the
result is that Penny just seems shallow.† Nevertheless, some teens will
identify with Penny; she does go through a difficult time and comes out of it
wiser, so the story could have some educational benefit. †Some readers'
comments on Amazon.com are full of praise, so it is possible that some readers
will find the book rewarding.† However, my verdict is that the verse form adds
little to the emotional power of the book, and other novels give richer
depictions of family problems and surviving them.
© 2006 Christian
Perring. All rights reserved.
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews. His main
research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.
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