Jan 15, 2005
Big Mouth & Ugly Girl, Joyce Carol Oates
I was really excited to see that Joyce Carol Oates had written a YA book, and it is also up for some awards. I like how this book examines what happens when we falsely accuse people and how that changes them, even if/when they have been exonerated. In this case, it really forces Matt to grow up. Before the stupid twins accused him of wanting to blow up the school, he was constantly making stupid jokes and really just playing the clown for his friends. In fact, he did say he wanted to blow up the school, which in general is just not that funny. So when he is arrested, and then none of his friends stand up for him, it really forces him to examine why he was making those jokes, if none of his friends think it is worth it to talk to him.
After he is released because the police realize he wasn't at all serious, he is basically a social outcast. Everyone goes from thinking he's a funny guy to not ever talking to him. Even though he didn't do anything wrong. It makes me think about how we change our minds about people, and about the justice system. How when we see celebrities accused of things, we immediately think they are guilty and change our opinions of them, even if later it is found they are innocent. And public opinion of them can make or break their careers. Matt didn't do anything wrong, but instead of welcoming him back, everyone is upset with him and keeps their distance. Then because everyone is keeping their distance and making him miserable, he agrees to go along with his parents plan to sue, making everything worse. It's as if his high school "career" is over.
I also really liked the transformation of Ursula. Sometimes these books can have really lame endings, like Ursula cleans up her act and becomes super pretty and popular. I guess I think this is way more realistic and allows her to grow without falling into any stereotypes about what makes people happy. Ursula learns she can be part of the team, not the sole star. And she learns she can have relationships - friendships, a boyfriend - without losing her sense of self. She doesn't have to change that much, she just had to learn that she was making really wrong assumptions about how people felt about her. In Matt's case, he assumed people liked him more than they did, he assumed his friendships were stronger and more genuine than they were. In Ursula's case, she assumed people hated her all the time, and she assumed her relationships were much weaker than they were.