A quick search on Twitter of the words “girl detached” Chouett and my twitter handles will lead you to quite a few tweets which came to pass over the cause of both of us reading the book (and other awesome bloggers). Most can be summed up like these:
Girl Detached is a book that will stay with you, which is brilliant but I didn’t know how to review it. There was so much I wanted to talk about, much more than could be contained in the normal review format I use. I was also interested in how different we reacted (see question 2) to aspects of the story.
Chouett and I talked about reviewing Girl Detached together and below is that discussion. Fair warning, these questions do talk about the content of the book so: *spoiler warning*. If you have read Girl Detached – join in! If you haven’t yet then I highly recommend you do and we’re not going anywhere. I can talk about this book for ages.
Let’s get started…
Aleksandra has issues with her voice. Stress makes her stutter, and her life is one of stress. She can only speak clearly on stage, freed by the words of the character she plays.
Then, when Aleksandra befriends her new neighbour Megan, and through her meets charming, handsome Ruben, it seems she has discovered a doorway into a different world, and a different Alek. But Ruben wants Aleksandra to play a particular role for him, and it is one that will come close to destroying her.
With 5 words only, describe your emotional journey while Girl Detached:
Chouett: Sad, Angry, Frustrated, Hurt, Numb
Luna: Empathetic. Anxious. Frustrated. Angry. Hopeful.
In the story Aleksandra receives a “make-over” by the other girls. The two of us had different reactions to this scene. What was yours and why?
Chouett: I felt that the “make-over” scene was one of the most violent punch free scene I have ever read.
The girls may have been only taking Aleksandra’s garments off, however by doing so, they wiped her of everything that made her who she is to that point, only to mimic her in their own image, that image that displays beauty on the outside, that shell that is only camouflage for the emptiness that each of them felt. I felt it was cruel of them to draw her into their world rather than preventing her from entering it. While being submitting to that violation, Aleksandra was truly helpless.
Luna: I remember reading your tweets about this at the time you’re reading Girl Detached and being surprised. I find it both fascinating and a little worrying that we have such different reactions to this scene. It makes me wonder how desensitised I’ve become by the constant make-over phenomena presented in media.
For me that scene was “just another make-over”, on some level it was almost cliché and feeding into the standard Cinderella transformation you see in countless stories. Aleksandra was happy with her reflection at the end, she felt accepted. I could get behind that. When you don’t fit and have someone change you, thus making you part of the club, you’re ok with it. No matter how hollow it ultimately is – because being on the outside is worse. Aleksandra was alone and after they had remodelled her she was different, now she belonged.
Thinking about it afterwards (especially in reaction to you answer) I pondered violence in ‘make-overs’. I could think of two films straight away that had hair removal of, let’s they intimate nature, Miss Congeniality and It’s A BoyGirl Thing. Even The Princess Diaries isn’t without pain. The hairdresser breaks his hairbrush on Mia’s hair while she says “au”. Yet these are comedies, two are teen movies. The message is clear: Pretty/Accepted equals pain.
Make-overs in movies (and other media) have been such a big part of my growing up that I accept as a norm, which is probably more terrifying than anything else.
Chouett: Ahhhhh The Cinderella parallel.
The one major difference here, and that’s why for me it made it more of a violent scene in disguise is that Aleksandra’s “fairy godmothers” were everything but benevolent. It is the intension behind the act that turned it into what I saw in the author’s words.
Did the overprotective nature of the main Aleksandra’s gran play a part in her derailment and if so to what extent?
Chouett: When I think about this question the first thing that comes to mind is “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions”.
I keep wondering, what is it that “Gran” found so wrong with her own granddaughter? Sure, she wanted to avoid Aleksandra to become a replica of her daughter however the more the pages are turned and the more you get the distinct feeling that “Gran” did not know her daughter in the end. They just let an argument fester for years and I guess when the minds wander with no resolution in sight “Gran’s” only recourse was to protect Aleksandra against the manifestation of her own fears. She just never realised how detrimental that would be.
One point to note that was disguised between the lines of the book when it came to “Gran” is how much of herself she saw in Aleksandra and how much it conjured pain, at least in her past. And whether it was beauty or femininity, she was going to erase that out of Aleksandra to prevent any future pain.
So yes, Gran was responsible in part for Aleksandra’s downward spiral. She did not know how to lover herself so she was unable to teach her in turn.
Luna: I feel like Aleksandra was left unprepared for the world beyond the small part her grandmother and her inhabited. She also tried to erase Aleksandra femininity and didn’t talk to her about men or sex.
Once Aleksandra got the freedom to experience and express desires that she had buried because she didn’t want hurt/disappoint her grandmother she went for it. The problem was that Aleksandra wasn’t prepared for the world she entered or knew how to identify who was a real friend and who wanted her for their own benefit so she didn’t have the tools she needed to put a stop to things.
The book focuses on grooming of teenage girls only, however this is a plague that affects boys equally, does this need to be addressed?
Chouett: Do we need to talk about grooming in YA? Yes, certainly and no one gender is at risk more than another. This plague will touch both equally. However the education about those issues can’t just be addressed in books. There is a need to raise awareness of this issue in early years, at home and in school however YA authors can definitely play a part in writing more about it.
Luna: Yes of course it does. Grooming is terrifying and often so subtle. I would love to find a YA or MG book that deals with that subject for boys, I’m hoping it’s already out there (if so, please leave a comment!) but I was much to terrified to do an internet search on the subject.
When you were Aleksandra’s age, do you think you could have been groomed?
Chouett: With a lot of “ifs” yes, I could have been at risk. And some of my relations are a strong reminder to me of “Gran’s” character. I was lucky enough to have the right people around me and sometimes, I found the right people externally rather than in the safety of my family. With a mum working nights and an absent father, you have the starting ingredients of a potential train wreck waiting to happen, but no…sometimes I feel I was one of the lucky ones.
Luna: I know this is one of the questions I created but now I don’t really want to answer this. Truthfully I want to say no but I think I probably would have been good pickings. At Aleksandra’s age I had no sense of belonging. Even though I had lived in the UK for a couple of years I didn’t fit in at school. I was bullied so much that I downright refused to go to school. The family I was staying with was nice but we didn’t fit together. I wanted my parents not to be dead. I wanted my home in Germany. I would have even taken my old school – at least I understood the social etiquette. With no confidence and such a huge isolation if would have been wonderful if popular and pretty people had paid me attention. Would I have been sucked in or realised what was going on before it was too late? No idea.
How do you think the culture of victim blaming impacts Aleksandra and the other girls in Girl Detached? How mirrored in real-life & our society as a whole, and does that influence how readers will interpret the actions of the characters?
Chouett: In my opinion this is much bigger than the book itself. Victim blaming has always been in tandem with the double standard we award women. This is seen throughout history and I suspect that future literary work from the upcoming generations will continue to feature this inequality if society does not learn from the past. I would like to think that there has been progress but the current affairs show otherwise. We always hear about the rape victim who has to defend her honour against the “rich kid from a prominent family” who pretty much gets away with murder.
What “Girl Detached” is emphasising is that still today the victim is guilty until proven innocent and we won’t make it easy for her.
Luna: A short while ago I watched a couple of documentaries on Netflix. Both told stories of girls who had been raped and how “society” as a whole treated them afterwards, in person and online. It was so frustrating to watch because again and again the questions would be asked as to ‘what had the girls done’. It was implied that they must be responsible for their own attack in some way.
What were you wearing? Were you drunk?
Did you know him/her/them?
Did you really say no? Loud enough?
Did you fight?
Isn’t this just a misunderstanding?
Aleksandra’s town is no different. For the few people that take her side, there is a mass of people in denial or shifting blame to the girls themselves. Standing up that onslaught is inspiring but honestly I can’t blame the other girls for not following Aleksandra. Going along with the town and hiding behind the excuse of ‘a misunderstanding’. It’s an escape from judgement and blame. Because it’s not the men’s fault is it? It’s the girls, because they ended up in that world. They agreed and it doesn’t matter if they were manipulated, lied to or threatened.
Aleksandra has anxiety, but she is not the only character in this story that deals with health/mental health issues. Did you feel these were handled well?
Chouett: Aleksandra’s anxiety was present but it did not seem to rule her, in some instances we even see her fight her way through it. The author may have been attempting to convey that it was a trait of her personality but the focus did not seem to be her anxiety. That was part of the package. So in that respect I felt it was handled appropriately. If the book was mainly about mental health issues, then I think it would have been more prominent.
Luna: Girl Detached is Aleksandra story, so very focused on her. The portrayal of Aleksandra’s anxiety was a little like extreme shyness (maybe similar to social anxiety?) but I thought it was convincing. I liked that the other character were all unique but because this book is so much about Aleksandra we don’t learn much beyond little hints. I would have liked more.
Chouett: The Bad guy got away with it scot free, because he was from a wealthy family. This last sentence would open up an entire different discussion but it needs to take place so let’s keep it going.
Luna: YES to Chouett’s statement!
And from me, go out and read Girl Detached. Have somebody else read it at the same time so you can talk about it.
Check back tomorrow for an interview with Manuela Salvi!