High school is hard, you know? Forget the academic components; it's a sea of swirling hormones and rigid social groups, all at a time when being an outsider can feel like endless torture. So when a high school student named Amy drives her car off a cliff in A Little Less Girl, everyone in her small town quickly deems it a suicide and blames local dreamboat, Jake West, for breaking her heart and sending her careening off the road.
Think that sounds complicated? Well, that all happens before the book even opens. And when Amy's cousin Dani arrives in town, things only get more tangled. See, Dani doesn't buy the suicide story, so she starts reading Amy's diary to figure out exactly what happened. Suffice it to say it ain't pretty, though Jake West, whom Dani happens to live next door to, most definitely is.
Published by Tess Oliver in 2011, this book is one part dreamy teen romance and one part deadly mystery extravaganza. Not only does A Little Less Girl roll two popular genres into one story, though, it also tackles some major issues, including teen suicide, self-esteem, bullying, friendship, young love, and totally inappropriate student-teacher relationships. Yes, really. All that in one book—and by an indie author no less.
You can blame it on the rain and you can blame it on the boogie, but no matter where you place the blame, playing the blame game can be weirdly satisfying. It offers up such simple solutions to life's problems, you know?
Trouble is, playing the blame game isn't so fun when you're the designated scapegoat. This is what Jake West finds out when the entire town of Raynesville decides he's guilty of driving Amy to commit suicide. After all, Amy had a crush on Jake and he pretty clearly called her fat and rejected her—cruel words hurt, so it's obviously his fault that she took her own life. Or is it? That's an awfully simple explanation to a complicated problem.
If some guy steals your phone from your pocket, it's totally his fault. Blame away. But other times, playing the blame game just takes a complicated situation—like teen suicide—and reduces it to a simple whodunit, seeking a tidy resolution to a messy situation in hopes that if we can pinpoint one person or thing to blame, we can stop thinking about the problem and go back to our normal lives.
As a society, we do this all the time. You'll hear endless cycles of blaming whenever a terrible tragedy happens. Think of school shootings. In the aftermath, the blame game breaks out in full force. Is it the gunman's fault alone? Are his parents to blame, too? How about the person who sold him the gun? Or should we blame movies that glorify violence? Or laws that allow unstable people access to guns? See what we mean? After a while, it all just becomes one big game of Pass the Guilt.
So before you blame someone or something else for a problem, stop and think about it. A Little Less Girl reminds us that it's not always so easy to assign blame to one person or thing. No tough issue is that easy to crack. Otherwise it wouldn't be tough in the first place.
Tess Oliver's official website. Consider yourself warned: Her books have some racy covers.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Even though Amy didn't actually commit suicide, the idea that she did looms pretty large in this book. Find out more about suicide as well as causes and prevention at this link.
Let's Be Bad
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Tess Oliver has some strong opinions about the great bad boys of literature. Here they are.
Fast forward to 2:44 for one avid reader's take on some of Tess Oliver's other books and why she thinks people should be reading this writer.
Jammin' with Janis
Grammie had good taste. Crank up this Janis Joplin song in the middle of the night and make some peanut butter and banana sandwiches to get the full effect.
Judging a Book By Its Cover
Bodies are pretty central to this story, so it makes sense that we see a good bit of one on the cover.
Wondering what the author looks like? Wonder no more.