Published by HarperTeen on May 17th 2016
Source: Publisher, Edelweiss
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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Maguire is bad luck.
No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the rollercoaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.
It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid meeting new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away is harder than she thought.
From author Paula Stokes comes a funny and poignant novel about accepting the past, embracing the future, and learning to make your own luck.
To say I adored this book would be an understatement. Girl Against the Universe was a book that hit all the right buttons for me, and it is doubtless one of the best contemporaries I’ve read this year. (In fact, including this one, only three among the ten or so I’ve read really stick out.) I loved reading about Maguire, and her fight with the Universe. I loved her therapy sessions with Dr. Leed, her fun banter with the girls on the tennis team (high-five for female friendships), the dynamics we see within her family, and the sweet scenes between her and Jordy.
Maguire was a really unique character, and someone who definitely stands out among the contemporary narrators out there. She’s very accident prone, except the accidents usually befall on everyone but her. Interesting, right? It isn’t surprising that she would think that she’s even cursed, in some ways. She starts out in the story being very compulsive about her good luck charms and quite paranoid about accidents happening around her to other people. The little things she does, like knock on wood three times or recite a Chinese prayer 8 times, are the things that really breathe life into her character. Stokes does an amazing job at showing readers, rather than telling, the extent of Maguire’s paranoia.
“As I settle into the chair, I do what I call a five-second check. I scan the furniture, the floor, the ceiling, and everywhere in between. There are people going in and out of the bathrooms, but no obvious hazards. No lurking strangers. When you’re a disaster magnet like me, it makes sense to constantly be assessing your environment for danger.”
I found the way that Stokes’ addressed Maguire’s mental illnesses very realistic and her character in general was just so down-to-earth. Written in a first-person POV, you get to experience each of Maguire’s thoughts and doubts. They’re things that I myself have even thought myself, despite not experiencing the things that Maguire has. Another aspect I enjoyed about Maguire’s condition was how the author managed to tie in psychological terms into the book that helped explain some of Maguire’s actions. As someone who took a Psych class last year, it was great to see connections of what I learned in real life situations. And the therapy sessions that Maguire went to were also some of my favorite scenes!
“‘The first thing you need to realize is that mental health if fluid. It’s not like you have an infection and a doctor gives you antibiotics and then you’re cured. No matter what the two of us accomplish together, you’re still going to have good days and bad days.’”
Along the way throughout these sessions and the assignments Maguire gives herself to get rid of her fear of inadvertently getting people hurt (which becomes a fear of many things) comes along friends and romance. Maguire would rather sacrifice loneliness to ensure other people’s safety in the beginning of the book. But as she starts to come out of her shell and reach out to people, she starts realizing how valuable having people by your side is. Of course, this process comes along slowly, but the end results are totally worth it. Her friendship with Jade and Penn and their support for her really warmed my heart.
And ah yes, Jordy, the star tennis player that Maguire first meets on her way out of therapy sessions. He certainly has problems of his own, and the exploration of said problems (and the way Maguire played into helping him solve them) really made him three-dimensional as a character, too. While Maguire is trying to overcome her fears, Jordy is trying to balance the Pro Tennis Jordy and the Real Jordy – the guy behind the cameras. They both end up helping each other out in the best of ways. While Pro Tennis Jordy is all charm and smiles, Real Jordy can be much more awkward and vulnerable. One of his goals was to find a good balance of those parts of himself, and ultimately discover who he is in the process. Watching his and Maguire’s relationship develop and go through its share of ups-and-downs had me grinning so hard. The romance was adorable, and at a perfect pace with a tinge of teenage awkwardness but overall so very heartwarming.
“‘Now I choose happiness, even if the whole idea scares the crap out of me.’”
Along with developments with friends also comes progress within the family. Maguire lives with her stepdad, mom, and half-siblings. She’s never really forgotten the accident five years ago that left her brother, dad, and uncle dead in a car accident. But through therapy and the new experiences that Maguire goes through, she learns to move forward. We see glimpses of dialogue between her and the members of the family that will really leave you grinning. Her character development in general was just so phenomenal to see, and it’s a journey that I would read again in a heartbeat.
Honestly, Girl Against the Universe had pretty much everything I look for in contemporaries: amazing character development, great friendships, the sweetest romance, a superb family relationship, and refreshing characters that just simply breathe life. I couldn’t help but cheer on Maguire and Jordy as they overcame their problems. My heart ached for them, just as it filled up with hope when certain scenes happened. Despite them having quite different life experiences than them, I could easily empathize with what they were going through. How could I not give such a rating to this incredible book?
Rating: 5 out of 5
Thank you Edelweiss and Harper Collins for the review copy!