Author: Paula Stokes
Rating: 4 Stars
Stokes is one of those authors who can write anything. The light tone of this, combined with the deep and thoughtful subject matter (not to mention stellar romance) really reminded me of her debut, The Art of Lainey, which is an absolute favorite of mine. I think this might even be better.
Girl Against the Universe is about Maguire, a girl who believes she's cursed. Ever since she became the sole survivor in a car accident which killed her father, uncle, and older brother, Maguire has kept to herself. She has a "Luck Journal" in which she chronicles all the events in which she has escaped unscathed while those around her suffer. The only commonality that Maguire can find is herself so, she does the only reasonable thing and withdraws into herself.
Our story begins, though, in a therapist's office. I loved how Stokes chose to tell Maguire's story through her challenges with therapy. Maguire not only believes that she's bad luck, but she has OCD tendencies in which she watches for accidents that could happen around her and surrounds herself with "lucky" objects. It's heart-breaking. I was instantly rooting for Maguire to battle her inner demons and her journey throughout this novel is phenomenal. It's realistic, paced well, and most importantly it stems entirely from Maguire. It isn't motivated by romance or fear or any other type of catalyst. Maguire has her goals and no matter how hard they are or how many times she fails, she picks herself back up and tries again. I love this girl.
I particularly want to point out that Girl Against the Universe breaks down so many barriers and stigmas in YA. Not only against mental illness, but it also defeats the trope of mean-girl-cliques and girls-"competing"-for-a-guy (all silly, absolutely false constructions with no basis in truth but somehow we all think that these are the "norm"). Maguire joins the tennis team and while some members seem hostile at first, the situation isn't at all what it seems on the surface and my heart gave a little leap of joy every time Maguire opened herself up to someone new. Moreover, Maguire isn't the only character struggling with a mental illness of some sort and I liked that she had someone to talk to about her challenges and didn't feel isolated the way so many teens can feel (and how she did feel for so long).
The guy in question is none other than junior tennis star Jordy and their friendship won me over even more than their romance did. Jordy is such a sweetheart. He's not a perfect guy--there are rumors flying around him from the start and he's had his fair share of mistakes--but he respects Maguire and doesn't push her, instead taking baby steps until she's comfortable with him. I enjoyed how their relationship played out with minimal drama and lots of honest, open dialogue. Plus, Jordy's presence isn't solely to be the romantic interest or Maguire's therapy buddy, it's also to show that there are more than one type of mental illness. Jordy struggles with staying true to himself in the face of his fame and fortune and I think a lot of teenagers struggle with the first part of that and can really relate to Jordy. I know I could.
Gosh, this book is just so good. I want everyone to read it. It has fantastic friendships, a swoon-worthy romance, step-fathers who slowly become allies, families who become support systems, and a kick-ass heroine who overcomes her own fears. Girl Against the Universe is inspiring and wonderfully written and, perhaps best of all, you'll learn some tennis from it. I hope now I won't be among the few readers who actually watches tennis with an equal passion as I read books. (Note: key word being watch.)