readergirlz is a literacy and social media project for teens, awarded the National Book Foundation's Innovations in Reading Prize. The rgz blog serves as a depot for news and YA reviews from industry professionals and teens. As volunteers return full force to their own YA writing, the organization continues to hold one initiative a year to impact teen literacy. All are welcome to "like" us on Facebook!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Rgz Host: Stephanie Reviews Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick

Our Seattle Host, Stephanie Guerra, teaches children’s literature, young adult fiction and a seminar in writing instruction at Seattle University. She also heads a volunteer creative writing program at King County Jail, and researches and speaks about literacy instruction for at-risk and incarcerated young adults. Stephanie lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband and children. Her debut young adult novel, TORN, will be published by Marshall Cavendish in spring.

Stay tuned for Stephanie's reports of Seattle book events! Today, she shares a book review of Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber:

"Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick is not a 'girl' book—it’s definitely aimed a male audience, with the requisite high-adrenaline nonstop action and suave, funny protagonist. I’m reviewing it because I’m always interested in breaking down the barriers between 'girl' and 'guy' books. Sometimes that means finding titles that appeal to both sexes, and sometimes it means finding books that give us a glimpse into the collective psyche of the other side. This book does both—sort of.

"Sixteen-year-old Perry is an aspiring musician and a classic East Coast kid: urbane, witty, and intelligent. During his senior year of high school, his family hosts a Lithuanian exchange student, Gobija Zaksauskas. Contrary to Perry’s hopes, she’s far from a sultry Euro-model with a fetching pout; she’s nondescript, frumpy, and forgettable. When she asks that Perry take her to prom on the night of his band’s first-ever NYC gig, he refuses. But his father lays down the law, and Perry finds himself at his school with a bespectacled girl dressed in traditional peasant garb (think floor-length hand-stitched burlap) on the night when he should be shredding in NYC.

"At prom, a jerk makes a cruel comment about Gobi’s outfit, Perry defends her… and she finishes the job by delivering a world-class azz-whupping? Shortly afterward, she loses the burlap sack and magically transforms into a foxy babe with a rocking body (sadly hidden for so long under her bulky sweaters). Now it comes out that she’s no potato-fed peasant; she’s a 24-year-old secret agent, here to deliver justice to some nasty mob types.

"Oh, the surprises that those bulky-sweater-wearing girls can harbor. What follows is a tear-through-NYC adrenaline ride in which Gobi knocks off several of her targets, fights others, gets blood all over everything, and dances very sexily with Perry, who has been aiding, abetting, and resisting her by turns. I won’t spoil the ending for you, if you haven’t already guessed it.

"Joe Schreiber is a smart, funny guy and I found myself lingering over some of his hilarious, well-crafted, strangely poetic sentences. On a sentence level, the book is masterfully done. On a plot level… well, let’s say Schreiber knows how to dish up what guys like. But I think he’s selling them—and us—short.

"I was a lot more interested in Gobi when she showed up to prom in her peasant garb, which takes major cajones of a different kind than those required to kill people. I wanted to know that girl. Sadly, I lost her as she shrank into a one-dimensional stereotype. I don’t think any author or filmmaker is throwing women a bone by making female characters bad-ass a la Charlie’s Angels. Even toting guns and doing roundhouse kicks, they’re still just sexy things for men to look at. Real women rarely beat up and kill men while dressed like porn stars.

"I did appreciate that Schreiber made his protagonist kind and courteous; he didn’t make fun of Gobi when she was 'ugly,' and he defended her from others doing so. That’s worth something. But the device of librarian-takes-off-glasses-and-shapeless-dress is such a tired male fantasy that it undoes some of the good accomplished by a decent male protagonist.

"I’ll end my rant before it gets tiresome, if it isn’t already so. Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick is a fast, fun ride and worth reading because of the excellent humor and strong word-smithing. But I’m holding out hope that Schreiber will turn his considerable talents to creating real female characters with depth, emotion, and intelligence. I would push the envelope a little further and request that they not always be 'hot,' but I think that would probably be going too far."


Lorie Ann Grover said...

Wow, awesomely honest, Stephanie! Way to go!

LoriStrongin said...

Really awesome review. I think this one sounds fun and I'm always eager to see more male protagonists in YA fiction. Though, I didn't think about the whole stereotype of the secretly-hot girl in disguise trope. You've got a good point there.


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