I read and review a lot of books each year, and this one stands out for me as a story that changed me. I am telling you, it is a must read. If it is on your TBR list, shuffle it up to #1 spot immediately! It falls into categories 4, 5 and 11 on my list. Buy this, read this, then give it away to your teens, your partner, your friends to read.
Title: Girls Like Us
Written by: Gail Giles
Published by: Candlewick Press, 2014
Themes/Topics: special education, diversity, rape, bullying,
Contemporary YA fiction
Awards: 2015 The Schneider Family Book Award. This award honors a “book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for adolescent audiences,”
Suitable for ages: 14 upwards
BIDDY: My name is Biddy. Some call me other names. Granny calls me Retard. Quincy call me White Trash sometimes and Fool most of the time. Most kids call me Speddie. That’s short for Special Education.
I can’t write or read. A little bit, but not good enough to matter. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t know. If I could write I could make a long list. List might reach all the way through Texas to someplace like Chicago. I don’t know where Chicago is. That’s another thing for the list.
QUINCY: Most folk call me Quincy. I ain’t pretty but I got me a pretty name. My whole name be Sequencia.
The one thing all of us Speddies can tell you is what kind of retard we are. Ms. Evans get wadded in a knot if if anybody say “retarded”. We be “differently abled.” I got challenged when my mama’s boyfriend hit my head with a brick.
With gentle humor and unflinching realism, Gail Giles tells the gritty, ultimately hopeful story of two special ed teenagers entering the adult world.
We understand stuff. We just learn it slow. And most of what we understand is that people what ain’t Speddies think we too stupid to get out our own way. And that makes me mad.
Quincy and Biddy are both graduates of their high school’s special ed program, but they couldn’t be more different: suspicious Quincy faces the world with her fists up, while gentle Biddy is frightened to step outside her front door. When they’re thrown together as roommates in their first “real world” apartment, it initially seems to be an uneasy fit. But as Biddy’s past resurfaces and Quincy faces a harrowing experience that no one should have to go through alone, the two of them realize that they might have more in common than they thought — and more important, that they might be able to help each other move forward.
Hard-hitting and compassionate, Girls Like Us is a story about growing up in a world that can be cruel, and finding the strength — and the support — to carry on. (Goodreads)
Why I like This Book:
Raw, gut-wrenching, tear-inducing, real, empathy-inducing…. this book churned up so many emotions in me. And if you want to do a study with a class or for yourself on ‘voice’, use this text. The mainly alternating (by chapters) two-person point of view is imperative to this novel and powerful. From the first few sentences each of the three main characters (Biddy, Quincy and Miss Lizzy, the old lady whom they work for and live with) voices stand strong and clear and different. The author drives this novel with voice and Biddy and Quincy’s characters are so well developed I feel like I know them, or better still, I so want to have the privilege of meeting them in real life. Now that is proof beyond question for me of the power of a good storyteller.
Respect is one of the many themes that flows through this complex story. Quincy and Biddy complement each other perfectly and the special Ed teacher and new counselor recognize this well before Biddy and especially Quincy do. How beautifully Giles depicts Miss Lizzy underestimating both girls and Quincy underestimating Biddy. This is a powerful challenge to us all but I think especially to teachers for whom it is easy to underestimate certain individuals in their class.
I loved the authenticity of the frail, compassionate Miss Lizzy being offensive in some of her attempts at doing good by Quincy and Biddy. Each character was perfectly flawed; Quincy especially was harsh and hard and yet transformed through these new friendships.Their need for one another and their formation of a different sort of family by the end is very moving.
The transition into adult life isn’t easy for any 18 year-old and Quincy and Biddy’s growth and development of self worth, despite both of them facing horrendous abuse, leaves the reader with an amazing sense of gratitude and empowerment.
My review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t admit to loving the mama duck scenes too!
I would love to set this as a high school class read, maybe for 9th and 10th graders. The potential for class discussion is enormous.
My author friend , Ellen Hopkins, runs a fabulous program called VENTANA SIERRA, which helps not so much special ed students in particular, but 18 year-olds like Biddy and Quincy who have outgrown foster care (or as in Biddy’s case, whose grandmother no longer wanted to care for her now she was losing the federal support!) but who still need structure and care and ‘fambly’ as Quincy would say. Please consider supporting this project.
Many nations have projects for reduced/free rent for young people willing to live with elderly and/or disabled people needing some support. Encourage young people, especially students to consider these options. For example, some Dutch nursing homes offer rent-free housing to students in exchange for engaging with the elderly residents.