Manstealing for Fat Girls by Michelle Embree (Soft Skull), 260 pages, $17.50 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
From the title, you might deduce correctly that this is a brazen book, a little obnoxious and definitely hilarious.
Michelle Embree's first shot at young adult fiction tackles class and sexuality in a gutsy way. She writes intelligently and eloquently about a cast of working-class outlaws more full-blooded and authentic than those who usually appear in print.
The freaked-out and fucked-up teenagers in this book are contradictory, terrified, alternately ordinary and just plain peculiar.
The protagonist, Angie, is better known in the hallowed halls of high school as Lezzylard. She has three friends: Shelby, who's a dyke, a girl with only one breast, and a stoner named Inez. Angie's always on a diet, a borderline anorexic. She pisses off the wrong popular girl, and violence ensues.
Though Embree negotiates the story's many plot shifts with ease, the book ends up feeling as jam-packed with characters as a peeled-back tin of sardines. Some develop flawlessly, like Shelby's archetypal tough-talking, trashy sister. She's introduced as your run-of-the-mill chain-smoking dropout, but by the climax she's taken charge, transcending the initial bitch-with-a-bad-dye-job stereotype.
Others are mentioned, then dropped, like the father whose name Angie never knew and the hippie parents of the popular party girl. Refreshingly, the parents responsible for Angie's peer group of misfits are portrayed as flawed yet at the same time capable of protecting their kids.
Embree's fast-paced novel packs more than a few chuckles and will resonate for those who spent their teen years popping Dexatrims and listening to Crazy Train on repeat. It's also an insightful look at kids raised in America with little access or entitlement, written with a sharp voice and keen eye for emotional detail.
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