Louise Rozett, and the first book in her Confessions series. Rose Zarelli is starting her freshman year at Union High School, and if you thought your high school days sucked, there is a good chance Rose's freshman year tops that. Practically the whole town is walking on eggshells and the faculty at school are treating her like she's fragile because her dad died over the summer; he was an engineer, and when he lost his job, he went to Iraq on a contract with the military. He was riding in a convoy when they went over an IED.
Her mother has been in shock since she got the call, and is completely distant. Her brother is off at college and he seems to have changed, too. Rose is angry. She's cynical, irritable, and everything seems to be going completely wrong this year. It's not just her family, either - her best friend, Tracy, is a fashion-conscious cheerleader on a quest to be popular. Rose doesn't really give a shit whether or not she's one of the "cool kids." She doesn't understand Tracy's new obsessions with partying and losing her virginity to her jerk jock boyfriend, Matt. She doesn't seem to understand anything that any of her classmates find interesting or cool or fun. But whatever.
And then, there is Jamie Forta. She used to have a crush on him, back when he played hockey with her brother. Seeing him again, maybe she still likes him. He seems interested in talking to her, maybe being friends, but there's no way he could be into her - she's not pretty, and she's pretty much his complete opposite. I mean, she's an AP student, and he's in remedial English. He got kicked out of hockey for high-sticking another kid, and he's still apparently kind of a badass. Nope, no way a guy like that would be interested in a girl like her. Oh, and there's also the fact that he's dating a cheerleader - Regina. One of her ex-best-friend's new best friends. Regina's psychotically jealous and kind of a bitch, and has convinced herself there is something going on between Rose and Jamie; so of course she makes it her singular ambition to make Rose's life hell.
Things kind of spiral way out of control, as you may have guessed. So yeah, Rose is angry. She's sorta pissed, actually. How can you not become completely irate, enraged, furious...when your life is falling to pieces all around you?
This is one of those books I finished the same day I started reading it. I don't read a whole lot of contemporary fiction, but with books like this and Spin, I'm definitely getting more into it. I wasn't sure how well I would relate to Angry Girl, since Rose's circumstances are much different from what my own were in high school; I ended up becoming very empathetic toward her, though. I related to her not in the more obvious ways...for example, I certainly never had some guy's girlfriend start a jealous vendetta against me, and I was never the victim of harassment. Both my parents are alive, and my brother and I don't have the same close relationship that Rose and her brother Peter share (or rather, shared, I guess). And I certainly don't live in a town so small that everyone knows basically everyone else.
What I do relate to is Rose's outlook; her general mindset. I was in band in high school too, and though that means I knew a lot of people, I was mostly under the radar. I had some close friends, but I've never felt like I really "fit" anywhere specific. I went out a lot, mostly to shows where friends' bands and friends' brother's bands were playing. But really, all that stuff high school kids are "supposed" to do, all the stuff you see going on in high school on TV or in movies, or whatever...I felt really gypped when I got to high school and realized that was not real life. Or at least not for me. Maybe it was for other kids, the popular kids, the cool kids. But it was kind of like...wtf, why was I not suddenly tall and pretty and fashionable? Why was I not dating? What about all those crazy secret house parties when some kid's parents go out of town for the weekend and someone else's cool older brother is home from college and brings a keg of cheap domestic beer for everyone?
Where was my stereotypical teenage experience? And if I couldn't have that, I thought, why could I not have the RomCom teenage experience, where okay, I'm under the radar and dorky and trying unsuccessfully to hide that I'm a total geek, but then maybe halfway through junior or senior year, one of the popular girls takes pity on me for some reason or one of the dreamboat jocks asks me out on a dare that I'm not aware of, and eventually I get to make the ugly duckling-to-beautiful swan transformation.
Anyway. So I didn't understand. I still don't. I still don't "fit" and I still don't "get it." Maybe that's part of what attracted me to anthropology. I want to "get it." So I'll just sit back and quietly observe and take notes like I'm Dian fucking Fossey and you're all "gorillas in the mist."
I felt for Tracy the same seething frustration that Rose feels throughout most of the book. I want to slap her or shake her or try to yell sense at her. A lot. Not that any of that would likely work. But at least you could say you tried. She's like a poster child for peer pressure. They could make an after-school special about her, probably. And Tracy's douchebro boyfriend? UGH. He reminds me of guys I used to be briefly involved with, in some ways.
I don't think I need to say much more about Regina, except that after reading this on top of having seen Mean Girls upwards of a million times, I don't think I will ever be able to name a child Regina. Good thing that wasn't in my top 10.
Jamie Forta. I was iffy about him at first, because yeah I'm obsessed with names and I have never really liked the name Jamie. On a boy OR a girl. But he grew on me very, very quickly and I was able to get past the name. For the most part. He seems to be a pretty run-of-the-mill secretly sensitive bad boy type, which is done kind of a lot I guess, but I enjoy it. Reformed rakes and the like are a guilty pleasure trope for me. I am not ashamed to admit it. One thing I really appreciated about Confessions of an Angry Girl is that unlike some other teen romance plots, there is no insta-love factor here. Rose and Jamie know each other already, albeit from something of a distance, and she's crushed on him before. Who the hell knows what is going on in his head half the time. I'm sure you may have figured out already where that's going to end up, but I won't say any more here anyway, to avoid any potential spoilers. After all, it may or may not turn out quite the way you think.
I loved Jamie's friend Angelo. I'm not even 100% sure why. At first he comes across as kind of obnoxious and an arrogant dick, but the more he shows up, the more he just seems very friendly, in a forthright kind of way. He turns out to actually seem kind of sweet, even. At least he seemed that way to me, you might think I'm crazy for thinking that, who knows. I've always had kind of a soft spot for guys who are a little rough around the edges, though. /shrug
Robert reminded me a little of guys I've known, too. And he annoyed me about as much as he did Rose. He's the kind of guy who is nice, no question about that, but you're friends, and you just don't feel the same way about him that he does about you, regardless of how nice and/or attractive he is. That whole situation is just awkward and uncomfortable and a little irritating.
I read parts of this out loud, and I'm kind of glad I did. Rozett writes in such a way that both spoken dialogue and inner monologue are completely genuine. Everything about the way her characters talk is believable to me, and this I think did a lot to making the entire story come to life in a way that is believable enough to make you care about Rose and about what is going on in her life. Hell, I got so wrapped up in it sometimes that at some of the more nerve-wracking moments, I almost needed to take a Xanax. Not to mean that "Ms Rozett, you have driven me to drugs!" but the point I'm trying to make with this, is that that is how real the world she created in Union felt to me. I really felt like I could have been Rose. I could easily see myself saying something she's said, or feeling the way she's feeling, and sometimes doing the things she's doing.
I don't like to make comparisons exactly, but if I had to think of something this was "like," I might say that in tone it felt a bit like an American Georgia Nicolson, even in only the most basic elements. Although maybe they're more like two sides of a coin - Rose Zarelli is maybe the bitter, angry, cynic to Georgia Nicolson's quirky, upbeat, goof.
Apart from being an enjoyable and quick read, I appreciate that Rozett touches on some issues that I think could be particularly poignant in today's society. For one thing, I like that Rose's dad died in Iraq not as a soldier, but as a civilian working under military contract. There are tons of civilians working in war zones, doing normal jobs, trying to rebuild and make things a little more livable for people whose homes or maybe whole towns have been destroyed. They set up schools and hospitals and rebuild homes. They do a lot of really important work, but they don't really get much, if any, recognition. And what I think is especially remarkable is that unlike the soldiers, who are there because they were deployed to these areas, and so are there because it is their duty, these civilians are there because they chose to accept those positions, despite the obvious risks. I really like that Rozett addresses this through the tragedy of the loss of Rose's dad.
The other issue that I think is important is the one of bullying, or harassment. It's a pretty major element in this book, and while there has been a lot of attention paid to the issue lately, it certainly doesn't hurt to have someone else shine a light on it and say "See? See how out of control these things can get, before you even know it?" The reactions by both the high school students and by the adults are all fairly accurate, I think. What's more is that Rozett has given us this pretty realistic situation without being over-the-top or getting preachy. That's the necessary thing, I think, in making any message accessible enough to your target audience, that they will likely take something away from it.
And as I mentioned briefly earlier, Rose's friend, and it seems like everyone but Rose, really, is totally obsessed with sex. Rose spends a lot of time trying to convince Tracy that Matt is just pressuring her and that she's probably too young to be ready, and that she should at least make him wear a condom. Yadda yadda. There is a lot of talk about The Pill, and we sit in during sex ed in a health class, where the teacher makes a big deal about respect for yourself and respect for your partner being the number one rule regarding sex. So yeah, there is a lot of talk about sex in this book, and at one point a little visit to a gynecologist at the free clinic. Rozett gives us characters who fall into both broad camps on this issue...there's Tracy and many of the other classmates, who are your typical irresponsible teenager, going along with what feels good without stopping to think about what the consequences could be. Then you have Rose and...well, okay, mostly just Rose and the health teacher and the nurses at the clinic...who spout the virtues of responsibility and waiting until you're actually ready to jump into a sexual relationship.
If I was the parent of a pre-teen or a teenager, I would definitely give them this book to read, if only to subtly provide them with these messages from an impartial third party. I mean, it's not like some preachy moral book, but it makes some very good points about things, and the story overall was a great read, I thought. The only thing I didn't particularly care for is that it ended sort of abruptly, and now I have to wait until this summer to find out what happens next with Rose.
I'm actually kind of hoping against hope that Tracy and Angelo get together. If she were still friends with the cheerleaders, it might end up like Robbie and Julie in the movie Valley Girl, but I love that awful, corny movie, so much so that I have it on DVD. So I wouldn't really have a problem with that.
I read this as an eBook that I received through NetGalley, but it's one of those that I will probably buy in paperback if I see it in the store sometime, especially if I end up getting the sequel in paperback.
Series Info: What came before this book? What's next?
* Confessions of an Angry Girl (Book 1)
- Confessions of an Almost-Girlfriend (Book 2)
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