Friday, May 3, 2013
ARC Review: The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher
Title: The S-Word
Author: Chelsea Pitcher
Rating: 2 Stars
Release Date: May 7th, 2013
As you can probably guess from the fact that I started The S-Word a little over an hour ago, I skimmed through this novel. Even I can't read a three-hundred page novel so quickly. Now, having finished this debut, all I can think is that it would have been far more suited to the hands of a more experienced writer. For a debut novel, The S-Word lacks finesse. I cannot pinpoint exactly what it is, but something about the writing style in this didn't work for me. Although it is evident that the vision that Pitcher had for her first piece is brilliant, its ultimate execution sadly isn't.
The S-Word opens up with the suicide of Lizzy. Angie and Lizzy have been best friends for years, but when Angie catches Lizzy with her boyfriend on the night of prom, she ceases to speak to her and, consequently, the entire school labels her as a slut. Now, even with her death, her memory refuses to fade. A mysterious individual writes "SCHOOL SLUT" on the lockers, all in Lizzy's looping scrawl, and what's more, they slip pages from her diary into the lockers of students who Lizzy knew well. Angie, filled with guilt at the role she played in her best friends subsequent death, sets out to find who exactly is writing on lockers and reading Lizzy's diary. Along the way, though, she may find a truth more shocking than everything else.
In terms of plot, The S-Word is excellent. As a mystery novel, it reads very well, flowing at a solid pace and revealing clues slowly, but masterfully. While I had many ideas, the ultimate revelation was still a slight shock and, on that front, Pitcher proved to be a strong author. Yet, what forced me to skim this novel was, quite simply, the writing style. First and foremost, Angie is a protagonist who lacks emotion. Although her best friend has just committed suicide and betrayed her with her boyfriend, Angie never exhibits any outward anger, grief, or trauma. Instead of her narration reading like that of a friend who is mourning her childhood companion, it reads more like a mystery than anything else, which took away from the overall impact of this story.
Moreover, the dialogue veered on the border of highly unrealistic at times. When Angie interviews her classmate, either her responses or theirs often made me question the soundness of the phrasing. For some reason, it simply didn't flow, proving to be rather choppy. Even Lizzy's diary entries, which are scattered between every few chapters, read more like the thoughts of a middle school student than a high school girl gearing for college. All in all, it was simply so tough to grasp this story because of the distance first placed by the narrator and later the unrealistic dialogue that marred the situations throughout this book.
Yet, even more than that, I was sad to find that the ultimate message of this book, although important in thought, was never properly conveyed. Granted, Pitcher did have a fabulous idea for her debut, one that could have changed the thought-processes of many readers, but as a whole, her book fell short of that much-needed impact. You see, despite focusing on the injustice of branding girls as a slut, especially when the boy involved gets away without even one form of bullying, The S-Word never felt as if it preached to a universal audience of girls. Prior to Lizzy's betrayal, she had always been known as a goody-two-shoes type of girl who had no interest in boys or sex. Thus, when Angie defends her friend, she continually emphasizes the fact that Lizzy was a good girl and, as such, didn't deserve the label of a slut.
In this manner, Pitcher makes us feel sympathy for Lizzy instead of immediately hating her for her actions as so many of her classmates did, but isn't this simply a double standard? What about the girls who get labeled sluts every day and aren't a carbon copy of Mandy Moore from A Walk to Remember? What about those girls who are just normal, flawed beings with their fair share of "enemies" in high school? Do they deserve to be labeled a slut, then? No, of course not. Chelsea Pitcher manages to get into the mindset of this fictional school and these fictional characters, but her messages about slut-shaming are restricted to her novel and aren't nearly as universal as I hoped.
Nevertheless, I must admit that The S-Word is a novel with very good intentions. It set out to show readers that we are quick to judge and label, especially in a world that continually objectifies women. Although we live in societies where women are given their basic freedoms - voting, abortion rights, independence - they are still subject to so much more than their ancestors never were. While The S-Word didn't work to impact me in any way, I certainly hope that other readers will find it to be the thought-provoking novel I hoped it would be. Even if it lacks a lot, idea certainly isn't one of them. (But, then again, isn't the point of a novel to execute a good idea well? *sigh*)