Sunday, June 7, 2015

Hyacinth Girls

Title:  Hyacinth Girls
Author:  Lauren Frankel
Publication Information:  Crown. 2015. 304 pages.
ISBN:  055341805X / 978-0553418057

Book Source:  I received this book through the Blogging for Books program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "On a chilly October morning I watched them put Callie's face on a billboard:  two men in hard hats hoisting the vinyl sheet on a rope through the air."

Favorite Quote:  "People put together lots of facts and still miss the truth."

"Do you know your children?" Beginning with this compelling question, Hyacinth Girls takes on the issue of bullying. Can a victim be a bully? Can a bully become the bullied? Are there signs? Told through the alternating perspectives of Rebecca and Callie, the book takes on the issue through both a parent's and a teenager's eyes.

Rebecca is Callie's guardian and a single parent trying to raise her best friend's daughter. Callie, by all appearances, is doing well - an honor student and the center of a group of friends. As the book begins, Rebecca is shocked when Callie is accused of hurting another student, Robyn. Her instinctive reaction is that it couldn't be Callie; some other explanation must exist. The first half of the book walks through Rebecca's journey - her disbelief, her accusations toward Robyn and even Robyn's mother, her increasing worry about Callie, and her flashbacks into her own past. The reader keeps guessing at what really happened pretty much as Rebecca does. The second half of the book depicts the same situation from Callie's perspective, really driving home all that Rebecca does not see. It drives home the point that a lot can happen in a teen's life without the parents ever being aware of it. The ending brings it back to Rebecca.

Bullying is a powerful issue. This book, however, goes far beyond bullying. The story of Callie's background and Rebecca's history gets almost equal billing throughout. Callie is an orphan. Both parents, Joyce and Curtis, died in unfortunate circumstances when Callie is an baby. Her immediate family feels unable to care for Callie at that moment. Guardianship passes to Rebecca. Joyce was Rebecca's best friend, and Curtis was Rebecca's cousin. In caring for Callie, Rebecca does her best but is also unable to let go of the past. Some elements that emerge from this storyline are somewhat far-fetched and come together too neatly particularly towards the end of the book.

Friendship, particularly friendships between girls and between women, are also a critical part of the Hyacinth Girls. Rebecca and Joyce. Rebecca and Lara. Callie, Ella, and Dallas. Callie and Robyn. The importance of these relationships and their enormous impact on the life of each girl are a major theme of the book. Equally important are the far-reaching effects when these friendships are betrayed.

Each one of these elements could form the foundation of an entire book. Combining them in this one muddles the conversation about bullying. Yes, bullying happens, but including all the other elements puts into place the idea that bullying is something that happens "out there" when other circumstances enable it, lead to it, or facilitate it. The reality is bullying happens everyday and everywhere in the most ordinary of circumstances. Extreme situations as in this book do not need to exist for bullying to be a problem.

That being said, the book does an excellent job of capturing the desperation and the lack of understanding of both the parent and the child. If it starts even one conversation about this important issue, the book will have succeeded.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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