Book Review: Girl Against the Universe – Paula Stokes

Girl-Against-the-Universe-Paula-Stokes-Book-Review

Title: Girl Against the Universe (2016)
Author: Paula Stokes
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Extent: 382 pages
Release Date: May 17, 2016
Rating: ★★★★☆

Goodreads Description

Maguire is bad luck.

No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the roller coaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.

It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away may be harder than she thought.

Review

I was actually not entirely sure what to expect when I picked up Girl Against the Universe. I kind of thought it would be like those YA contemporary novels that are actually just a romance, with other issues sprinkled on as spice. Yet this novel turned out to be so much more — and I absolutely, absolutely enjoyed it.

This book is the story of a girl named Maguire, a girl who thinks she brings bad luck to the people around her. Horrible things have happened to the people in her life, but so far she has always come out relatively unscathed, leading her to believe that she’s cursed. After the latest big incident in which her neighbour’s house caught on fire, Maguire’s mother sent her to therapy. This is where the story stars.

There’s a thing that sometimes happens in your brain when you’re the only survivor of a horrific accident. Part of you is happy because you’re alive, but the rest of you is devastated. Then the sad part beats up the happy part until nothing is left, until all you feel is terrible sorrow for the people who didn’t make it.

One of the strongest points of Girl Against the Universe is its characters. I loved Maguire — her guardedness, her love for her family, her resolute determination to get better. I loved her friends: Jade, Penn, even Kimber, who I first thought would be a typical Mean Girl character but turned out to be different. Maguire’s family was also lovely: there was Maguire’s mum, who was still hurting from the accident but tried her best to move forward, and her step-dad, Tom, who was just the sweetest thing ever. Everyone was just likeable, and I cared for all of them and wanted them to be happy.

I also liked Jordy, Maguire’s love interest, whose relationship with Maguire initially reeked of the “you’re not like other girls” trope, but soon (to my relief), eventually morphed into a deeper, stronger friendship. I loved that they didn’t ‘fix’ one another but instead helped the other get better in ways they weren’t fully aware of — I think this was a great message that many mental illness-themed YA books would be smart to include.

Some parts of this book I found very sad and realistic. Grief is a minor theme and I love how delicately it was addressed here, several years after the incident that brought it on. Yet the best thing about GATU is likely its discussion of mental illnesses and how right the author gets it. A lot of this comes in the form of Dr. Daniel Leed, Maguire’s therapist, whose sessions with Maguire we get to witness sometimes.

“The first thing you need to realize is that mental health is fluid. It’s not like you have an infection and a doctor gives you antibiotics and then you’re cured. No matter what the two of us accomplish together, you’re still going to have good days and bad days.”

Girl Against the Universe is one of the best contemporary YA novels I’ve read this year — along the likes of John Corey Whaley’s Highly Illogical Behavior, yet another incredible novel that deals with mental illness. Highly recommended. 🙂

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40 thoughts on “Book Review: Girl Against the Universe – Paula Stokes

  1. I havent heard of this book until now and I really enjoyed your review. This will definitely be added to my TBR. You say it deals with mental illness. Can you say what type or is that a spoiler? Im just curious

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  2. First time to encounter this book! I love, love, love your review. This seems to be a pretty excellent read and you had me hooked when you shared that small excerpt. I can’t wait to get my hands on this!

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  3. Wow this sounds like an amazing book. I read Highly Illogical Behaviour last month and really enjoyed it, it’s definitely up there now with my favourite contemporary books, so you saying GATU is up there with Highly Illogical Behaviour as one of the best YA contemporaries you’ve read this year is really making me want to pick it up myself now.
    It also sounds like this book has a lot of almost tropes (‘you’re not like other girls’ and potential Mean Girls) but kind of avoids them which is a great thing in my opinion. Granted they’re tropes for a reason, because they’re in a lot of books, and there are people out there who enjoy reading them but there needs to be more unique stories and I’m guessing GATU is one of them. Also it’s great to hear that the mental illness angle is properly explored in this book as well, it’s one of the things that set Highly Illogical Behaviour apart for me, that fact that Solomon’s anxiety was so well handled. I’m assuming it’s the same case with this book?
    Great review Reg! 😀

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    • It was really good! If I have to choose I do like Highly Illogical Behaviour a bit better, but that’s mostly because the voice is SO snarky and that makes it humorous. This one is less so and the characters are more “conventional”, but they’re equally likeable. 😛

      Yeah, this book did put a spin on the Mean Girl trope. I’m not sure if it really avoids the “you’re not like other girls” thing, but Jordy does stop saying things like that after a while, so I take that as success!

      I’d say so – this book focuses a LOT on therapy, something that I think isn’t covered as much in HIB, and that focus sounds very well-researched. I hope you get to pick it up soon – I want to know what you’ll think. 😀

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      • I suppose Highly Illogical Behaviour is a hard book to beat isn’t it; in terms of the characters and the story and the voice like you said. But it sounds like the characters in this book are still just as likeable.
        I guess you can’t really avoid all the tropes, they’re tropes for a reason aren’t they? Becaue they’re popular in books and TV. But at least eventually the “you’re not like other girls” thing stopped.
        Oh that must have been an interesting angle to read. I haven’t actually read any YA books that focus on the therapy angle, other than Highly Illogical Behaviour. I’ll be sure to write a review as soon as I finish so you’ll be able to see what I think of it, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it just as much as you did! 😀

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        • It is for me! I’m sure people who dislike HIB won’t feel the same way, but I loved pretty much every inch of that book. 😛

          Yeah, I haven’t either… and I’d go as far as to say that HIB doesn’t really focus on ‘real’ therapy. Like, Lisa wasn’t qualified AT ALL, and I don’t think she did much therapy-ing (for lack of a better verb); she basically just became his friend. GATU definitely is more actual therapy-focused. 🙂

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          • Well yeah there’s always people who don’t like books aren’t they, but I was the same I loved HIB too!
            I feel like the therapy in HIB was more offering Solomon friends and showing him he could still have a life outside his home even if he didn’t leave the four walls. It would be interesting to see a book which is real therapy focused. 🙂

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  4. I completely agree with everything you’ve said! This book was absolutely amazing and I love how honestly and realistically it portrayed anxiety. Glad you enjoyed it as much as I did! Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! ❤

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  5. After reading the synopsis, I have to admit that I wasn’t hooked. It seemed almost predictable where this book was going to go, and I was afraid that the main character would end up being whiney, and unable to live life because of her preconception about her bad luck. But you made this book sound much more readable, and brought more details about the book that make it seem more lovable. (Which is why I think book reviews are soooo important)

    The fact that the relationship isn’t based upon their obsession with fixing each other is also refreshing. I think I’ll be giving this book a try now 🙂

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    • I understand! I’d say that Maguire did start the book kind of unable to live life, but she never struck me as whiny – just really, really troubled. She does demonstrate a will to get better though and she works hard for it, so I don’t think there’s anything you need to worry about on that front. 😛

      I hope you do! It’s quite a special book, I think – I really appreciate the way it treats mental health and therapy.

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  6. Oh, good, I’m just about about to read this book too and am glad to read your positive review. I didn’t/don’t know what to expect from Girl Against the Universe either, but I’ve heard the writing’s good, and the story seems unusual in a way I like.

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  7. I’ve been hearing SUCH good things about this book! I love contemporaries, especially ones that are quite meaningful. It’s great that mental illness is represented accurately as well! Great review! 🙂

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