Sometimes it seems forced when books by white people are full of characters of color and/or disabled people, and yet...the diversity in YA movement has inspired writers to create worlds that are more reflective of reality, and I like it. In my white able-bodied reading Reed seems to stay on the right side of realness.
The trio of girls at the center of this story are Grace, a chubby teen whose family fled Kentucky Baptists after Grace's mom started spouting liberal from her pulpit and lost her congregation; Rosina, an overextended underappreciated Chicana lesbian; and Erin, an autistic girl who keeps her head shaved and has a passion for sea creatures. (Throughout most of the book, Erin is described as having Aspergers, but at one point she say something like, "I'm autistic, and I like it," so I'm going with that designation.)
Grace moves into the former house of a family that left Prescott, Oregon after the daughter, Lucy, was gang raped and reported the well-liked and well-connected perpetrators and was not believed or supported. Grace discovers Lucy's cries for help scratched into her closet. She overcomes the shyness she learned from having been socially blackballed at her old school and makes friends with oddballs Rosina and Erin and asks them to tell her what happened to Lucy. Grace, and Rosina along with her, get fired up enough to take action against the rapists, and in a way against the town and school structures that protected the boy-men instead of Lucy. Erin is more hesitant, but goes along for her own reasons.
I was moved by this book before I even started it because of Reed's simple dedication "to us." Some of the chapters were told in the "us" persona, which I didn't love, but I did like how she brought other girls' stories into the novel without overwhelming it with competing storylines. She makes room for the people who participate from afar (a rape survivor who finds the topic too painful to discuss), or who want to, but are afraid they won't be welcome (a trans girl). As I observed in the beginning, Reed seems to be going out of her way to be inclusive--or equitable--in her portrayals, but she's not pretending that everything is perfect.
She's chosen a few characters to focus on and it seems to me does a good job of letting them express some 101s.
Erin is, unapologetically, a science geek. She knows this is an Asperger's sterotype, as are many other things about her--the difficulties expressing emotions, the social awkwardness, the sometimes inappropriate behavior. But what can she do? These are just parts of who she is. It's everyone else who decided to make them a stereotype.
Rosina is the only child of a single mother, but she is part of a large extended family, including her abuelita, who has Alzheimer's. Rosina has the sweetest relationship with her granny, snuggling with her at night. "Abuelita mumbles something that Rosina doesn't understand but that she hopes means 'I love you.'" She doesn't even mind overmuch that Abuelita believes she is speaking to Rosina's dead aunt, Alicia rather thant to her.
As the girls' movement, where their anonymous group is known as The Nowhere Girls, becomes known, and school officials, dude bros, and even members of the town react badly to it, things heat up.
"I wish things didn't have to get violent," Grace says.
"They already were violent," Allison says.
Word. Girls and women are subject to or fear the possibility of sexual violence every day, but horribly, fighting back makes them more vulnerable much of the time. The boys' football coach is sad because his team of good boys has lost all their games this year. Reed gets another dig in when she has him say that Jonathan Franzen is his favorite author. LOL.
Rosina jokes that The Nowhere Girls are all intersectional when a Black and an Asian girl join her, the lone Latinx person, in the group. But another Black girl doesn't take chances, thinking,
Because this feminism or whatever they're doing--it's a white-girl thing. When they go around making demands and yelling, people call them fired up and passionate.
But black girls don't have that privilege. When black girls stand up for themselves, people call them hostile. They call them dangerous. They call them other things.
Guess which member of the original trio is the most threatened by school officials?
I'll be interested to hear how women of color and people on the autism spectrum react to TNG (just realized that the book has the same initials as Erin's favorite TV show), as well as people from sexual violence support communities. From where I am, it was a satisfying and empowering read.