Friday, October 20, 2006

The Geography of Girlhood, by Kirsten Smith

In a series of verses, we cover two years of Penny's life growing up, covering the usual topics of 14, 15, and 16, with a bit of drama thrown in for good measure. So, we get stories of sibling rivalry, dating, feminine hygiene, sleepovers, and loud drunken parties, along with death, running away, and a mental breakdowns. The verses don't really tell a story, but rather provide a series of snapshots of the Penny's life.

With positive blurbs on the jacket from Sarah Dessen, Sonya Sones, Ann Martin, Deb Caletti, E. Lockhart, and a bunch of others, Smith's publicist is working overtime to give this book the highest possible profile. Does it match the hype?

Verse novels is a dicey genre. Some of them transcend to become truly great works, but many more fall into predictable melancholy. As a rule, they are terribly uneven. This is a prime example of that uneveness. Several individual poems in this collection really stand out ("The Thing About Boats", "Going Together") but so many more as just wistful phrases. My favorite game is to read just the final line of each poem and move on. If it sounds like a Hallmark card, then you basically are dealing with tripe. Too often, Smith falls into that trap.

One of the reviewers wrote that "these are the poems that every teenage girl ... would love to write." I'd believe that, and I won't question the honesty of the writing. But what I have to wonder is whether you'd really want to read it? Too much of what I wrote in adolescence really wouldn't have interested anyone but myself.

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