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When asked why I write, I usually stutter out a made up answer that I can't remember three seconds later. I can't remember the very first time I decided I wanted to write, it's just something I kind of always did. I wrote really bad poems as a kid, then horrible short stories as a teenager and then passable plays in college. I'm an adult now (and nothing you can say can make me change my mind about that) and hopefully my writing has progressed with my age. When I'm not spending my time with made up people in made up places doing made up things - some would call it lying- I'm generally reading, running, watching sports, drinking good beers and eating too much food with the hubby. I'd love to tell you I'm a mountain climber or an astronomer or something cool like that, but I'm not that cool. In truth, some would say I'm nerdy. But the Dr. Who poster above my computer would beg to differ.
on Jan. 11, 2013 :
11-year-old Reggie lives a dangerous life in an ordinary world. A resident of the impoverished Apartments and cared for only by a mentally ill mother, she faces constant bullying at school as well as the real-world dangers presented by poverty. She escapes this harsh reality via her imaginary alter ego, Tough Girl, who battles aliens in a faraway fanciful land.
Tough Girl is told from Reggie’s point of view and follows her as she goes about her life. She never seems to catch a break—the big girl at school picks on her, the popular boy creeps on her, and then, to top it all off, her mother can’t feed her. Reggie’s quiet, introverted personality is a direct result of all that external trauma. She does her best to remain invisible, hiding away in the safety of her mind.
Tough Girl is what Reggie aspires to be. Reggie spends much of her time detailing the world Tough Girl occupies, and the book switches between Reggie’s real world and Tough Girl’s imaginary one. Tough Girl is something straight out of a pulp sci-fi novel: a tough-as-nails fighter who doesn’t take crap from anyone.
The contrast between real-world Reggie and Tough Girl highlights the character’s mental state. Reggie can’t cope with the harrowing reality she lives in, a reality she can’t defeat by kicking bad guys. Tough Girl’s world allows her a sense of triumph, even if it’s only in her own head. The harder Reggie’s life is, the more she relies on Tough Girl. She even incorporates elements from her life into her fantasies. For instance, after a distinctive new neighbor moves in, she turns him into a character for Tough Girl to tangle with.
After Reggie’s mother disappears, she starts losing control of her fantasies. The imaginary beasts invade her real-world vision, and she can no longer control how Tough Girl’s story unravels. Confusion and bewilderment reign until the very end, which throws in a surprising twist.
Heily’s writing mimics a child’s simple, innocent thoughts. The basic sentence structure and vocabulary reflect Reggie’s point of view. Hers is not a very complex mind—she sees things in a certain way and has a hard time understanding anything else. For instance, she knows to fear rape, but doesn’t even know what it really is. She doesn’t understand the advances of a boy at school. She also fears the foster care system, thinking that she’s better off alone with her mentally ill mother, even though living with her means starvation.
Reggie is easy to sympathize with and even admire. Simplistic as her thoughts are, she always keeps her head on straight and deals with her situation face-on and with honesty. Fiercely independent, she handles the brutality of her situation with admirable strength, even though that strength is somewhat misplaced. Heily has done a superb job in depicting a child’s naiveté in a believable manner, making the story ring true.
Tough Girl is a harsh, gritty tale that deals with disturbing themes both in Reggie’s reality and in Tough Girl’s imagined world. Its unapologetic and uncensored depictions can be hard to read, but ultimately rewarding.
(reviewed long after purchase)
on Jan. 07, 2013 :
In a story that skirts the edges of actually becoming a transgressive fiction work, Tough Girl is both emotionally demanding and disturbing while managing to craft a protagonist that is as admirable as her situation is deplorable.
This is not a “light read” nor should it be taken as such, but there is great beauty and insight within. Part of that beauty comes from the all too realistic depictions of a family on the edge, battling poverty, mental illness and violence: all told from the point of the child.
Meet Reggie, 11 years old with a rich and varied imagination and a serious knack for survival. With a severely mentally ill mother, and little in the way of creature comforts, her escape is into the world of imagination and the creation of her alter ego – Tough Girl, to get her through the worst of times. Descriptive of a dissassociative personality disorder, this story details a child crafting a protective shell in times of extreme stress, and relying on that alter ego more frequently as the stressors in her life become too much to handle.
Libby Heily has done an amazing job in crafting this story. With a voice that rings true as an eleven year old, with an amazing innocence and naiveté despite her circumstances, her determination and honest integrity. Additionally, with the increasing presence and voice from Tough Girl, and the confusion that result as the two worlds begin to merge and blur the lines between imagination and reality are detailed with a grace not often found in a book aimed at teens.
Nor do I necessarily believe that this is a book for every reader of YA age – more skewed to the older teens, as there are complex and disturbing elements of subject matter that not all parents would want their young teens exposed to. This is a book well worth reading, laced with symbolism and correlating the trials and struggles between the two worlds, making it a truly worthy commentary on society’s treatment of children of poverty. Disturbing and gritty, with near visceral reactions to some scenes and situations there is a beauty in the lack of apology for the realities detailed within.
I received an eBook copy from the author for purpose of honest review in the Indies Rock promotion at I am, Indeed. I was not compensated for this review, and all conclusions are my own responsibility.
(reviewed long after purchase)