This Girl is Different by JJ Johnson tells the story of former hippie homeschooler Evie as she tries out public high school for the first time her senior year. She is clearly a smart, analytical boat shaker. As soon as she gets to high school, she makes a good friend, Jacinda, as well as a boyfriend, Rajas. However, she also stirs up trouble and sees injustices everywhere in the school system.
This YA book called to me from the shelf and I got it despite my better judgment. Honestly, the basic plot outline is just too familiar. From middle grades books like Ida B. to YA titles like Stargirl and Schooled, it seems like the idea of homeschoolers (always slightly unschoolish liberal ones, it seems) who go back to school, show off how unique they are and then eventually integrate into the system are everywhere these days. For one thing, it has begun to feel like a very lame plot device. Writers want characters who think for themselves and bring an outsider’s perspective, so they seem to be turning to homeschoolers. However, the end result in so many of these plots tends to be that school isn’t so bad, a message I’m not really on board with educationally. This Girl is Different walks a slightly more careful line in this regard. In the end, school turns out to be a mixed bag for Evie. There’s less of a redeeming moment than in other books I’ve seen, which helped my like it a little more.
The book also addresses another issue that is dear to my heart, which is student rights. Student rights was the subject of my masters thesis and was something I fought for as a high school student myself, when my friends and I sued our school over censorship (and won, I might add). I’m all too aware that most of the time when stories about high schoolers deal with student rights, the overt message tends to be that student rights are good while simultaneously showing how students don’t have or can’t handle having rights, thus subverting that message. Again, This Girl is Different walked a careful line. In the end, student free speech is actually validated, in a much clearer way than most story lines. I’m not sure that the outcome Evie manages to achieve at the school is entirely realistic, but nor is it completely absurd.
So despite my reservations, the book basically won me over. Evie’s fiery passion and sense of justice is a bit simplistic from an adult perspective, but it reminded me of myself back in high school and I appreciated that her strong qualities never become negatives. Evie’s first romance is realistic, as is her friendship with Jacinda and her relationship with her hippie mother. Quotes begin each chapter and help frame the story. A nice, breezy YA read that teens interested in justice the way Evie is will probably enjoy.