Allison's Book Bag

Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

Posted on: October 29, 2013

Story of a Girl (novel)

Story of a Girl (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Winner of the 2007 National Book Award, Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr is the sympathetic story of a teenage girl caught having sex in the back of a car by her father. Three years later, he has never forgiven her. Nor have any of her peers forgotten, many of whom have labeled Deanna a slut. A realistic portrayal of a family trying to find their way in the aftermath of Deanna’s promiscuity, Story of a Girl is written by one of my favorite authors.

When searching for selections to include in my round-up of books about misfit and troubled kids, Story of a Girl popped into my mind. Deanna longs to escape a life defined by that one mistake. Her former friends refuse to associate with her. Most boys now view her as a sex object; waiting in line for Chinese take-out, an older boy puts his hands between her legs from behind.  What is perhaps most heart-breaking is that Deanna’s dad hasn’t talked to her or looked at her since that night. Actually, Deanna’s whole family is troubled. Her brother, Darren, lives with his girlfriend and their baby in his parents’ basement. His girlfriend, Stacey, leaves  one night to move in with a friend. As for the parents, the dad has lost his job and ability to forgive his children for their mistakes, while the mom doesn’t know how to pull the family back together.

As I reread Story of a Girl, I tried to figure out why Sara Zarr is one of my favorite authors. An obvious answer is that Zarr creates interesting stories populated with realistic characters. Of course, so do many other authors. What makes Sara Zarr special? In Story of a Girl, I appreciated how Zarr dangled a hope in front of readers that Deanna could escape her life by renting an apartment with Darren and Stacey. It’s a realistic goal, and potentially life-changing. I also appreciated how well Zarr understands relationships. One of my favorite scenes is between Deanna and her brother. Darren is trying to figure out why Stacey left. Deanna suggests perhaps it’s because he didn’t have the right reaction to Stacey’s dyed hair. When he pushes for an explanation, Deanna says that with Stacey’s new hair style, she could have become anyone. “Like, what if she hadn’t had April? She might be in college or backpacking across Europe or something….” His reaction is perfect and priceless: “And that’s a reason to leave? Because I didn’t get all that from a dye job?” I love Zarr’s characters!

A less obvious answer to the question of why Zarr is one of my favorite authors is that she writes about faith in her books. Even in Story of a Girl, where religion isn’t integral to the plot, Zarr slips in lines like these: “I thought of something Lee had said once when she was talking about church, that sometimes there was no reason to believe in God and you’d look at your life and know it was crazy to feel peaceful but you did anyway, and that was faith.” Zarr never preaches, and none of her stories are salvation ones, but her positive view of God shines through.

All of Sara Zarr’s books are on my wish list. It was fun to reread Story of a Girl again for my round-up of misfit and troubled kids. Compared to the other selections on my list, Story of a Girl is shorter in length and quieter in tone. In some ways, therefore, it’s less suspenseful. And yet perhaps it’s that very essence, its everyday realism, that makes it resonate so strongly.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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