Bargain Bookshelf: Smart Girl

Scouring thrift store bookshelves so you don’t have to!

Thank you, Savers! You are quickly becoming my go-to source for retro/vintage YA novels. It’s a treasure trove, I tell ya! Now, let’s dig in, shall we?

The Cover

Highwater jeans, 80s hair, and Afterschool Special tagline aside, this cover is all kinds of wrong. Besides giving off a horribly uncomfortable teenage sexuality pamphlet vibe, her eyes say swoon but her body language screams bad touch. And is teenage love so powerful it suddenly causes girls to fade away?

The Story

Elizabeth Ellen is a bookworm. Oh, the humanity! But no biggie. She’s content to hide behind her excellent grades, good-girl persona, and bland wardrobe. See, she gave dating a try but she discovered Big Man On Campus Tom only asked her out so she would help him improve his GPA. Her first and only experience with teen boy bastardry sends her scurrying back to her books until she meets Bruce Johnson, possessor of perfect sparkling blue eyes, sandy blond hair and “large, rawboned hands.” Will she allow him to thaw her frosty heart?

Speaking of Ice Queens

Despite Elizabeth’s low self-esteem and excessive navel-gazing, Bruce is smitten. He plies her with winks and grins, joins the math club with her, quizzes her in physics, and offers to help her teach “disadvantaged” youth with learning disabilities how to read. Convinced there’s an ulterior motive, Elizabeth rebuffs Bruce’s interests. Everyone says that any boy would be lucky to date her, but Elizabeth’s not buying it. Her best friend Cindy doesn’t understand because she’s a popular cheerleader.  Her father doesn’t understand because he’s a man. But no one’s opinion is disregarded as much as her mother’s, whom Elizabeth mentally berates for having the nerve to give birth to her at the age of 41 and looking old, plump and haggard instead of youthful, thin, and “put-together” like her friends’ mothers. And that supplying her with fresh baked goods every day after school thing? Just a subversive plot to make Elizabeth fat and unattractive too.

Telling Quote

Suddenly restless, she stood up and walked over to stand in front of the full-length mirror on her closet door. She already knew what she would see, so why bother to look?

There was nothing in her appearance that would attract a boy–long, brown hair pulled back severely from her face, large hazel eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses giving her a slightly owlish appearance, and white even teeth. She was definitely a plain Jane, even dressing like one in her brown or gray skirts and her oxford-style blouses.

Final Thoughts

I’m all for unlikeable characters, but Elizabeth is unbearable. Readers have absolutely no reason to root for this girl! My goodness, she takes self-indulgence to stratospheric levels. She’s negative, whiny, and ungrateful. Anyone who tried to help her was met with snarky resistance, and she cruelly wields her intelligence and perceived superiority like a blunt object. Halfway through, I was glad when it looked like Bruce was secretly hooking up with Cindy. What a disappointment to find out they were just confabbing about how he could get Elizabeth to go out with him. And despite Bruce’s claims to like Elizabeth for her “true self”, he doesn’t fully commit to her until after she completely transforms her appearance. If all that wasn’t enough,  the author randomly alternates between calling her Elizabeth, E.E., and Beth, often in the same paragraph. This book should be called “The Three Faces of E.E.” Overall, SMART GIRL fails miserably.

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8 thoughts on “Bargain Bookshelf: Smart Girl”

  1. This is hilarious. Wow. I’m pretty sure that cover is actually a screen shot from an after school special. This books seems to have all the elements of the early 80’s. Your line about fading away killed me. LOL.

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