A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Neighborhood Girls, by Jessie Ann Foley (The Carnival at Bray), follows the internal and external struggles of a teen girl whose life has been turned upside down after her father's arrest. Fearing she has a target on her back because of her father's brutal crimes (he was a police officer who abused and tortured suspects), Wendy decides to get in with a popular, powerful clique. Kids steal, go to parties, get drunk, flirt, have sex, bully, and break school rules. Characters swear, including "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," and "a--hole." The story offers some good discussion ideas around ethics, when to stand up to friends, communication between parents and kids, and bullying.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
After her police officer father is convicted of abusing and torturing suspects, Wendy and her family lose everything and are considered pariahs in their working-class Chicago neighborhood. Fearing for her safety and reputation, Wendy works her way into the clique of popular, tough girls at her all-girls Catholic school. The plan mostly works, but she ends up paying a high price in terms of her conscience and her old friendships. Her mom works constantly, trying to dig the family out of debt, and her brother joined the Navy and is stationed abroad. Unsupervised and adrift, Wendy makes some bad decisions and faces some dangerous situations. Her new group of friends offers a good level of protection, but they also bring their own host of problems. Wendy's left on her own to work out her feelings about her dad's crimes, whether she can stand up to her group of friends when they do illegal and unethical things, and her guilt over having abandoned her childhood friend Alexis.
Is it any good?
This sometimes engaging but mostly uneven story of a girl seeking protection among the cool kids shines a light on the power of high school cliques and female friendships. Author Jessie Ann Foley writes Neighborhood Girls from Wendy's point of view, and she does an excellent job of showing the push and pull of Wendy's conscience as she struggles with her friends' lack of ethics and lack of intellectual depth. The downside is that it get increasingly frustrating to read about Wendy's inaction and her friends' behavior. Kenzie, the leader of the clique, is unbearable at times, and the story veers into bleak territory here and there. Also, side stories and too much detail on interactions not all that important to the story make the book longer than it needs to be. Foley tried to cram in too much, and the narrative suffers as a result.
The writing is beautiful and wonderfully descriptive in spots, and Foley highlights the dilemma families face when a loved one has done something terrible. It's intriguing to contemplate how a family could reconcile the person they knew to be good and loving with the sadistic abuser who could do such things (in this case abuse and torture suspects), sometimes to teens.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the portrayal of cliques and bullying in Neighborhood Girls. Do you think books and movies realistically show what these groups are like, or do you think they exaggerate for the sake of storytelling?
When you read or watch a sensational crime news story, do you ever think about the ripple effect of these crimes on the families of the victims and the perpetrator? What do you think their lives are like in the years after the crime and trial?
Have you ever compromised who you are or changed the way you act to make friends? How did it work out?
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