Just because this is a book about high school girl cliques and one of the girls is called Regina, don’t make the mistake of thinking this is Mean Girls. Actually, scratch that, this is exactly Mean Girls. Down to the colour coordinated clothing. Except it’s not funny, and nobody is hit by a bus*.
These girls do truly horrible things to each other because of their own insecurities, and the need to become/stay popular. They will downright ruin people’s lives, drive them into depression or even towards suicide.
I was thoroughly disturbed by this book. It took me a few days to even land on a star rating, as at first I thought I couldn’t possibly think of this in terms of stars, it was just too horrible. By which I mean the plot, not the writing, obviously. I guess if a book upsets me this much it’s really worthy of five stars, but there were a few things that bothered me about it, like the ending wrapping up a bit too neatly/quickly. It was kind of like “if this is a solution why wasn’t it just solved earlier?”.
Regina Afton is the It Girl Anna’s best friend, but after Anna’s boyfriend assaults Regina at a party the truth of what happened gets twisted beyond recognition and Regina is ousted from the clique. Not only that, she becomes the victim of the clique’s intense bullying, which she was once on the other side of. School becomes a nightmare. And because school is most of your life at this age (either you’re at school, you’re doing homework, you’re hanging out with friends from school, playing sports with people from school etc), by extension – life becomes a nightmare. This was very well executed as by far the bulk of the novel happens in or around the school itself, and parents and other authority figures only exist in the periphery and don’t really seem like they can provide any help or comfort. You’re just immersed in this hellscape the whole time from which there’s no way out. And that is exactly what it feels like.
So yes, I’ve been there (albeit when I was quite a bit younger than Regina), which was one of the reasons I found this so difficult to read. It brought up a lot of stuff for me that I thought I had buried. The other thing that makes it so hard to read is that Regina used to be one of the bullies herself and was arguably one of the worst.
I do sympathise with Regina, and I definitely do not feel that she deserves what happens to her, but I also find it hard to like her, and to forgive her for her sins, as she did some truly horrible things herself. Sure, she already felt bad about some of this before the tide turned against her, but she still did it. She, on some level, chose to be cruel in order to maintain a social status, and though I know it’s hard to be an insecure teenager I still cannot really forgive that. But two wrongs don’t make a right – she doesn’t deserve being bullied any more than anyone does.
The whole book is extremely intense. In fact I suspect reading this was part of what triggered an up-tick in my anxiety levels over the past week or so. And like I mentioned, this is an effective way of making the reader feel what it’s like to be in Regina’s shoes. On the other hand it’s maybe a little overdone. I mean I get that there are genuinely mean, messed up people out there and that high school is a difficult time for most people, it just seems a little over-the-top. I missed a bit of nuance. And for people to be that screwed up there as to be something else underscoring it than plain teenage insecurities, and that was never really delved into.
That being said, it’s definitely a powerful book, and it gives an insight into the very real dangers of bullying.
Am I glad I read this book? Honestly, I don’t know. I feel very conflicted about it still, and I’m not sure I needed this in my life – though some other people might. It has an important message, though I’m already overly familiar with it.
*Yes, I admit it, Mean Girls is a guilty pleasure of mine, and I did just get inspired to re-watch it, and it was just as fun as I remembered. “Oh my God Karen, you can’t just ask someone why they’re white!”