Thursday, September 20, 2012

Review: Big Mouth & Ugly Girl by Joyce Carol Oates

Title: Big Mouth & Ugly Girl
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: January 1st 2002
Pages: 288
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: Sarah
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Matt Donaghy has always been a big mouth but it's never gotten him in trouble -- until one day when two detectives escort him out of class for questioning. Matt has been accused of threatening to blow up Rocky River High School.
Ursula Riggs has always been an ugly girl, a loner with fierce, staring eyes, Ursula has no time for petty high school stuff like friends and dating -- or at least that's what she tells herself. Ursula is content with minding her own business. And she doesn't even really know Matt Donaghy.
But Ursula is the only person who knows what Matt really said that day... and she is the only one who can help him.
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I had high hopes for this book. I hadn't heard much about it, but it sounded great, and Joyce Carol Oates is a renowned author. (I haven't read any of her adult novels, but I do know a few of her essays and some of her poetry.) Big Mouth & Ugly Girl might not be all that hypable, but I was expecting a quiet gem, one of those unassuming but good books. But sadly, that is not what I got.

The feel of this book is very immature, which surprised me, since Joyce Carol Oates usually writes for adults. Maybe it's one of those adult-author-tries-to-write-YA kind of problem, the author dumbing down her style for a younger audience, which I'm never a fan of. Either way, the writing is very basic - short sentences, lots of exclamation points, that kind of thing. Writing like that might fit some stories, but I thought it was kind of strange and didn't fit the serious subject-matter.

What bugged me most, I think, was the portrayal of good and evil, which is very black and white in Big Mouth & Ugly Girl. Each character is either all good or all bad and, well, that's not how real life works. I found it a little unrealistic how everyone turns on Matt. Reading the synopsis, I'd thought Ursula would spend the whole time trying to prove Matt's innocence, but that's just the first part. Matt's innocence is proven pretty far at the beginning, but people still treat him badly afterwards, and that's what the book is mainly about. I'd get that a lot of people would feel weird around him, and that some would even harrass him. But everyone turning on him, even his friends, who were there when Matt cracked those jokes that made someone report him? I can't imagine that happening, to be honest.

It also frustrated me how negatively the school was portrayed. They were told that Matt had threatened to blow up the school, and immediately got the police involved. Yes, that tip they received was crap, but that's not the school's fault! What were they supposed to do, ignore it!? School shootings are no joke, and I'd prefer a school administration that acts immediately, getting the police involved to protect the students, to one that'd do nothing. People kept repeating how the school should have known the scare was false because Matt had always been such a good guy, but it's not like you can tell beforehand who's gonna go and blow up the school. The way that whole issue of school shootings is handled, how the characters don't understand at all that the administration would be scared and tried to protect the students, frustrated me.

I didn't love the characters, either. Matt and Ursula are okay, I guess, but nothing special. I did not like how their relationship developed, at all. Ursula speaks up for Matt, and then they're immediately best friends. Their connection was deep and profound, supposedly, but I didn't see it. And that ending.... just, no.

Maybe I'm too old for this kind of book - I could see Big Mouth & Ugly Girl working a lot better for the younger YA set. But for me, it didn't work - an immature writing style and very basic plot and character development made it hard for me to enjoy Big Mouth & Ugly Girl.


  1. I find the cover a big turn off for a start. Not for me. Good to hear your thoughts.

  2. I remember seeing this book and being interested in reading it. It's disappointing you didn't really enjoy it and I don't like when characters are painted black and white either.

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