This review is copied pretty much verbatim from my Goodreads review. I don’t do that often, but that’s only because my Goodreads reviews are usually short and incoherent. (Much like me.)
I recieved Nice Girls Endure from NetGalley quite a while ago, but it took me a while to get around to reading it because of file format issues — Adobe Digital Editions and my tablet won’t talk to each other, there was no Kindle edition, and I just got a new computer. Anyway, I got there in the end.
It’s a very sweet, ultimately uplifting story about overcoming self-esteem and confidence issues and learning to love yourself despite bullying. While a lot of the story focuses on negativity — the bullying and microaggressions and crudity that fat people face in our appearance-obsessed society — it’s in the context of trying to overcome that.
And I liked that Chelsea didn’t have a moment of clarity that fixed everything. She tried medication, and that helped. (I would say it wasn’t entirely realistic in how quickly it helped — I know from my own anxiety issues that it can take a long time to find the right meds — but normalising medication for mental health problems is a good thing!) She made a friend, and that helped too: Melody was wonderfully sweet, and I liked her a lot. She talked to a therapist. She faced her fears. It wasn’t just waking up one day and fixing things, it was a process.
I would say that this is very much an ‘issue’ book. Even though one of the main points Chelsea’s trying to get across as narrator is that she’s more than her weight, that she loves singing and has beautiful feet and knows all the lyrics to Les Miserables and so on, it is ultimately a story about her experiences as an overweight teenager. But I think that’s okay, because we get to see her as a well-rounded individual (um, no pun intended), while also addressing a crucial and overwhelming aspect of her life that’s dominating her thoughts at this time. And the implication is that at the end of the book, she’ll go on to be much happier and more confident, without having lost any weight or changed anything fundamental about her personality.
I liked how frankly this dealt with social anxiety as a real problem, not something that’s all in your head. I’m not a huge fan of contemporary YA that’s just about one thing, but this was enjoyable enough, and a quick read (though I’d have preferred not to have to read it on my computer screen — that’s just a NetGalley problem).
Also, although this dealt with bullies and teenage cruelty, it didn’t seem as cliched as many portrayals of American high schools seem in books. While some students were mean, others weren’t. They felt well-rounded, and although some teachers failed to help out, others were supportive, without being that one person who changed a character’s life. (You know the one. They’re usually an English teacher because writers tend to have a weird relationship with English teachers.) I think the ‘high school outcast’ trope has been done so much that it’s hard to avoid cliches, and therefore it’s impressive that this managed it. I still can’t speak for its accuracy, because the more I read the more I think my secondary school was pretty unconventional, as well as being British, but it didn’t feel like a list of tropes the way a lot of contemporary books do.
So yeah, I thought this was pretty good. Probably wouldn’t normally be my thing, and while it’s an important story to tell, we do also need stories with characters who just happen to be fat without it being the focus of their story or whatever (as with all ‘diverse’ protagonists!), but I liked that Chelsea’s confidence didn’t come from losing weight, but from learning to accept herself.
Oh, and adopting a cat. I sort of wish we’d seen more of the cat, but it came in a bit too close to the end to really feature. Who knows, maybe there’ll be a sequel, featuring the cat.
Petition for more cats in YA books, please?