Smart Girls Get What They Want by Sarah Strohmeyer. Balzer + Bray, 2012. Currently available.
Genre: YA contemporary realistic fiction.
Face Value: Just one moment, please, as I climb up on my soapbox. Ok, I’m ready. PUTTING GLASSES ON A CUTE GIRL DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY MAKE HER A NERD. Somehow, somewhere, cover designers decided that gorgeous girls wearing glasses equal awkward social outcasts. That is infuriating. But the attention-grabbing title goes a long way in making up for the cover image. Despite the irritatingly smug girl on the cover, I had to read this book because of that title.
Does it break the slate? Absolutely. Strohmeyer has written a terrific YA novel in the sassy, funny, and Slatebreaking vein of authors like Maureen Johnson. This book has just the right blend of serious self-reflection and situational humor.
Who would we give it to? The girls on the honor role. They need a break from all of their AP textbooks, and this is the perfect leisure reading to remind them that they are powerful and capable individuals.
Review: Gigi, Neerja, and Bea have always been at the top of their class. These smart girls do their homework and they do it well. They idolize Neerja’s older sister Parad, who aced every single class and test in high school and went on to earn major scholarship money to an Ivey League school. These three best friends firmly believe that the path to happiness is hitting the books, hard. A startling discovery, however, startles them out of their academic reverie. They learn that Parad went through high school without having any close friends, any social interactions, or any romance of any sort. Gigi insists that there must be a way to do both: succeed academically and have a social life.
Each girl in the trio decides to embark on her own social adventure/experiment in order to make the most of their high school experience. Gigi becomes overscheduled and overstressed, and she’s still trying to keep her grades at their stellar level. So it’s not great when a teacher accuses her of cheating on a test and she has a letter of warning put in her permanent academic file.
Gigi didn’t cheat, of course, but the administration is not taking the situation lightly because of a previous poorly handled cheating scandal. She has been accused of cheating with Mike Ipolito, the resident king of the “bros” at school. Gigi is appalled that anyone could believe that she would consort with Mike. Unfortunately, the teacher and principal are not willing to give Gigi the benefit of the doubt.
It is the injustice of the cheating accusation that leads Gigi to do the boldest thing she has ever done: she runs for the position of student representative on the school board in the hopes that she can convince them to be more open in their investigation of cheating accusations. Gigi throws her name into the ring without taking into consideration one of the major components of running for public office. Public speaking. And Gigi becomes absolutely paralyzed whenever she has to speak in front of a crowd. This campaign will push her further out of her comfort zone than she has ever been before.
Gigi is a whip smart narrator of her too-busy life. She is confident, smart, and funny – just the kind of character that readers crave. Her humor and intelligence reminded me of Jessica Darling. She is also a terrific friend to Bea and Neerja, and I loved that her relationships with these girls were such a central and enriching part of her life. I know that the whole “girl power” concept has tapered off since the 90s, but the idea of strong and unified young women is alive and well in this book. The three girls support one another no matter what. Reading this book filled with warm and fuzzy feelings because of the positive girl relationships throughout the story. Of course, Gigi has one sour relationship with a former friend, but it goes bad because that girl decides to change her personality because of a boy.
There’s also plenty of romance in this book. It’s not hot-and-heavy or anything, but rather very sweet. There are lots of fluttery stomach feelings throughout the book, which is more fun to read than it sounds. Gigi has to contend with romantic attention from the suave new guy at school (who also happens to be her opponent in the election). She also starts to fall for “the bro” Mike. Gigi realizes that there can be a lot more to people than what the typical high school stereotypes allow. People think that she is an ice queen nerd, when she really feels isolated because of her inexperience in social situations. Gigi begins to see new sides to people – Mike “the bro” is actually deeply intellectual and very committed to academic success. The popular girls who she normally disdains are clever girls with keen insights into the school social structure. Gigi learns that she can’t make assumptions about people, and that everyone deserves a chance to prove himself or herself.
Gigi branches out in a way that is admirable and totally Slatebreaking. Bea and Neerja do their own Slatebreaking things as they venture forth in their new efforts, but Gigi is at the heart of the story and is the character with perhaps the greatest transformation. I think this book is an outstanding offering in the light and fun YA department because it offers all of the romance and social drama of lesser books, but with heroines who are ultra smart and self-assured. This is a great book for back-to-school time because it tells the stories of young women reinventing themselves for the better. Anyone who wants to make this school year better than the last one can find inspiration in this book.
Reviewed from library copy.