Saturday, February 7, 2015

Fictional blogging for her life

Undiscovered Gyrl by Allison Burnett


Authors have always been told, "Write what you know," but as far as I can tell, this is a rule that Mr. Burnett has shunned totally. Had it resulted in an unsuccessful novel, would have been understandable, but amazingly, it doesn't. How a 50-something male author can get so much into the head of a teenage girl is totally beyond me. What's more, as far as I know, he has no teen-aged daughters of his own to draw upon either. Even if he did, I would certainly pray that he couldn't possibly have used that personal experience as a model for his protagonist – Katie – who is in such a mess, it is a wonder that she can even get out of bed in the morning. Instead, Burnett seems to have gotten a whole lot right here, and in his novel “Undiscovered Gyrl,” Katie is frighteningly realistic.

Written in the form of an on-line blog, we witness all that Katie has been experiencing since finishing High School and deciding to take off a year before going to university. From the beginning, Katie tells us that she’s using a pseudonym and changing many details of her posts so that her followers can’t discover where she lives or who she really is. While this seems like a wise move, we soon discover that this is one of Katie’s few good decisions. Apparently, Katie knows this, and yet cannot seem to help herself, even when her followers try to give her friendly or even belligerent advice. Katie is going full-tilt and one wonders if anything will stop her fall, or even if she wants to stop.

Having raised a daughter through her teens myself, I know how obstinate and difficult they can be. Moreover, since I somehow survived my own teenage years – including my parents’ divorce and my father’s subsequent remarriage – there is much about Katie with which I can (unfortunately) personally identify. Thankfully, my father wasn’t a drunk, but other than that, if there had been something out of place or unrealistic here, I think I would have noticed.

What makes this book so fascinating – and it truly is a page-turner – is that despite what Katie thinks about herself and her self-destructive behavior, we can see both the good and the bad in Katie. We know when she’s on the wrong path, we ache to try to steer her in a better direction, and we pray that she’ll do something to straighten her out. That doesn’t mean that Katie is a total train wreck. No, there are times when Katie seems to be totally in control, responsible and caring. However, one thing that Katie isn’t is predictable. This is what makes her such a special character. Her humanity is all there: it’s realistic, it’s funny, it’s sad and it’s everything and anything. Moreover, even if we’ve never met someone like Katie she is still someone with whom we can connect and empathize. That means that despite all her faults, we like her and care about her.

It struck me that this book has a bit of a moral to it, or if you will, a warning to both young people and their parents in today’s on-line world. While on the one hand, Katie has done a smart thing by hiding her real name and location, on the other hand, her successful secrecy ends up being detrimental to her. Furthermore, exacerbating Katie’s problems is the fact that there is no one in her life she trusts or with whom she can be truly honest. What’s more, neither of her parents nor their new partners seems to know her well enough to notice something is wrong.

This book ends with lots of unanswered questions, and perhaps it is better this way. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have felt the true poignancy of this story. We need this mystery so we are neither overly hopeful nor altogether hopeless, and I think Burnett knew this. In all, “Undiscovered Gyrl” is a story about innocence and its loss, about youth in the world today – their potential and the paths they take that steer them either towards reaching it, or away from it. Powerful, moving and at times even funny, this a novel rings very true – and I highly recommend it with a healthy four and a half stars out of five.

 


"Undiscovered Gyrl" by Allison Burnett published by Vintage, released August 11, 2009 is available on Kindle from Amazon, Nook from Barnes & Noble, other eReader formats from Kobo, as an iBook from iTunes, in paperback from The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris and Better World Books, or from an IndieBound store near you. “Undiscovered Gyrl” inspired the motion picture (directed by the author), "Ask Me Anything," staring Britt Robertson, Christian Slater, Justin Long and Martin Sheen.) 

This is a revised version of my Curious Book Fans review, which also appeared on {the now defunct} Yahoo! Contributor Network.

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