Neighborhood Girls

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
Neighborhood Girls Book Poster Image
Interesting but uneven look at the power of cliques.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Some background on Chicago culture, history, sights, and geography. Discussions of Catholicism, saints, and religious activism. Many books mentioned, including Grapes of Wrath, The Bell Jar, and Pride and Prejudice. Characters discuss A Farewell to Arms. Historical information on tattoos in various cultures.

Positive Messages

Be true to yourself. Stand up for others. Practice compassion and forgiveness.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Wendy's aunt Kathy gives her good advice and is easy for Wendy to confide in. Sister Dorothy has a history of standing up against political injustice and cares deeply about her students. Tino is kind and understanding to Wendy. Wendy makes some terrible decisions, but she has a good heart and eventually figures out how to be true to herself and take responsibility for her actions. Alexis is morally strong and takes a stand when things get out of control at school.


A police officer's abuse and torture of suspects is described, but not graphically. A girl is beaten unconscious by a group of girls. A man gropes a woman's breasts at work. Some scenes of bullying. Fatal train accident.


Kids talk about sex, but no sex is shown; for example, a girl talks about hearing a neighbor having sex, another girl refers to having sex with her boyfriend, an adult tells a teen about losing her virginity, and kids make sex jokes. Some kissing. A lot of description of looks and sexual attraction. Girls use their bodies and looks to get favors from boys.


Characters swear throughout the book, including "f--k," "s--t," "fart," "goddamn," "God," "piss," "ass," "bulls--t," "hell," "a--hole," "d--khead," "balls," "bitch," "crap," "p---y," "Jesus," and "damn."


Many brands and media mentioned for descriptive purposes and scene setting, including Dr. Pepper, Skittles, Diet Coke, Dunkin' Donuts, 7-Eleven, Teen Mom 2 TV show, Virginia Slims, Jeep, Mercedes, Toyota Camry, Chrysler, Ford Focus, Cracker Barrel, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, iPad,  Pop-Tarts, Altoids, Oreos, Chex Mix, Tums, Uggs, Holiday Inn, Fritos, Starburst, Starbucks, and Red Bull.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens party and drink frequently, but Wendy's group always has a designated driver. Wendy's mom and aunt Colleen drink wine and smoke cigarettes. Aunt Kathy drinks wine with dinner and lets Wendy have a little champagne at Christmas. Alcoholic teacher is drunk on the job. References to students selling weed at school. Girl hides her friend's vodka at her house.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 14-year-old Written bySarah L. February 7, 2018

Kept my hard-to-please 7th grader riveted

My daughter and I read the book together and both found it very engaging. Aside from the language and references to sex, what I liked and I think my daughter al... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bylaneefarr December 2, 2017
The book was really eye-opening and made me consider thinking about why people say the things they do.

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? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

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