Noelle has been the victim of bullying for awhile now. When her stepfather passed away, Noelle and her mother had to move to a small apartment and cut down on the luxuries they'd previously been used to. Living in a wealthy area, this didn't go over so well for Noelle at school - where fitting in is the key to being popular and liked. Almost everyone is the same: rich, spoiled, snobby, and dressed to the 9's in their name-brand clothing. The few people who don't fit into this mold are harassed.
Noelle's home life is no better. Her mother treats her horribly, neglects to buy her the things she needs (deodorant, feminine hygiene products, clothes, etc.), and Noelle has to scrounge around for her lunch every day so she won't starve.
Noelle is just about fed up. She's fed up with her life and dealing with the fear and embarrassment of each school day. Fed up - until an outside force changes everything. Puts it all into perspective, if you will. Noelle decides it's finally time to take a stand. The question is, will it help her situation or make things 100x worse?
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This review is going to be difficult for me. I liked this book, but I had some major issues with the protagonist and her supposedly "poor" status. This will not be short, and it will not be sweet. It's ranty - you have been warned.
Okay. Definite spoilers ahead!
First of all, the facts do not add up. The quality of Noelle's home life, the poorness, the neglect. I think there were too many contradictions present for the picture Colasanti was trying to portray to come across. In addition to that, I had trouble connecting with Noelle and even liking her. Quite frankly, I was irritated with her through most of the novel.
- Noelle tells us that her mother has foodstamps, but, supposedly, their cupboards and fridge are bare? I don't have personal experience with foodstamps. I did, however, work at a grocery store for over 4 years and during that job dealt with foodstamps many many times - from my experience on that end, foodstamps can get you A LOT of food, okay? A LOT. So I find it unrealistic that there was never anything more than a bottle of mustard and a couple ends of a bread loaf. This brings me to another issue...
- Noelle complains on multiple occasions that she has nothing for lunch. Nothing to bring, because the cupboards are bare. Well, the girl clearly stated that she qualifies for FREE LUNCH at school but doesn't take advantage due to embarrassment. I find this unrealistic as well. If this girl is as starving and malnourished as we're supposed to believe, bullying or not, I think she'd suck it up and eat the damn free lunch. Even if she wouldn't, this makes it hard to sympathize with her character; hard to truly feel bad for her. Beggars can't be choosers, no?
- Another reason I disliked her is because she was hypocritical. She complains many times (at least 3 times within just the first 20% of the book) that people see her being bullied but ignore it and don't help her. Well, when she sees another student being bullied, she does the same thing. Looks the other way. Why on Earth would you expect someone to do for you what you would not do for them? NOT COOL. Another hypocritical sort of thing she did was make fun of one of her teachers for wearing the same pair of pants twice in one week, but then turns around and complains that she only has 5 long-sleeve shirts that she has to alternate between - because of lack of money. Well, who the hell is she to assume her teacher has enough money to buy more pants? I would think someone in her situation would be more sensitive, that's all.
- One last thing I have to mention about why I disliked this girl so much. There was one part where Noelle and her mother were eating supper; spaghetti and garlic bread. Noelle proceeds to complain that - GOD FORBID!! - they are eating pre-packaged garlic bread. WHAT A TRAVESTY!!! *eyeroll* - this sounds like something only a stuck-up, spoiled rotten, snob would say. NOT a poor girl who BARELY EATS. Right? Then pages later.. PAGES LATER.. she talks about how she has to tame her hair with lots of "product". Well, instead of buying so much of your beloved hair product, go buy some food! If you're soooo poor, prioritize!
I just had so much trouble sympathizing with, connecting with, or even liking Noelle. Maybe I am being way too nit-picky, but I couldn't read 10 pages straight without being irritated by this girl. It wasn't until the last 15% or so that I actually began to like her.
DESPITE all of my complaints about Noelle, the book as a whole does portray a really wonderful message. I was bullied in school, so stopping or minimizing the amount of bullying in schools is something I am very passionate about personally. What that characters ended up doing to spread the word about bullying was creative, inspiring, and something that could work in real life. It'd be a wonderful way to help give insight into what bullying can do to someone and how victims of it are not alone.
I also appreciated the message about the hierarchy in schools; the cliques. I like that Colasanti worked a romance into the story and did it with an unlikely match. Love doesn't care about cliques and hierarchy.
Overall, I think the premise is great. I think, as a whole, this book covers some issues that need to be covered. The protagonist and her situation weren't easy to connect with for me. I think, as someone who was bullied for the same reasons Noelle was (second-hand clothes, bad hair, not wealthy, etc.), I should have been able to connect easy peasy. I admit to being nit-picky sometimes, but honesty is honesty, and this is what I think. Regardless, this book is one that I think many readers will enjoy. The book is well written and Colasanti has a wonderful writing style. She knows how to interweave multiple plot threads and bring everything together in a fantastic ending that had me finally warming up to the protagonist. I'd recommend this book simply for the message it conveys. It's also a quick and satisfying read.