Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Mean Girls a Novel about Bullying Bludgeons the Reader

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Mean Girls a Novel about Bullying Bludgeons the Reader

Article excerpt

"HYACINTH GIRLS"

By Lauren Frankel

Crown ($25).

Lauren Frankel's debut novel, "Hyacinth Girls," appears to have been written with the best of intentions. It explores, in detail, the depths to which young girls (the main characters in question here are 14) can sink when they make the decision to torment one of their peers.

To Ms. Frankel's credit, the specific details of bullying mostly ring true. But "Hyacinth Girls" never manages to come together as a satisfying novel. At its best, it is trashily readable. At its worst, it is dull and overwrought.

One of the novel's problems is Ms. Frankel's decision to write it as a double narrative. The main plot-line explores a present-day bullying situation involving the teenager Callie. This storyline is then interspersed with frequent flashbacks exploring the youthful relationship between Callie's two mother figures - her biological mother, Joyce, and her guardian, Rebecca, who is the narrator for most of "Hyacinth Girls."

The trouble with this structure is that the flashbacks are not interesting. Because all of the twists and turns leading to Callie's birth and Joyce's death are telegraphed chapters in advance, watching that drama play out feels unnecessary.

The backstory also undermines the central plot of the novel. "Hyacinth Girls" is, at its heart, a traditional cautionary tale about how cruel the average child can be, even as she tricks the adults in her life into thinking she is harmless. But with her family history straight out of a soap opera (infidelity, murder, suicide), Callie is anything but average.

The gulf between the over-dramatic past and the more down-to- earth present is never quite bridged, and it becomes an insurmountable problem when a ghost from the past arrives just in time for a deus ex machina-fueled finale.

The only interesting aspect of the flashbacks is the friendship between Rebecca and Joyce, which is incredibly intense, especially on Rebecca's side - but even that relationship feels, ultimately, unsatisfying, thanks to Ms. Frankel's decision to leave its most interesting layer unexcavated. …

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