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