Friday, November 07, 2008

Getting the Girl: Sherman Mack Steals my Heart

"Getting the Girl" Susan Juby (Harper Collins 2008)

This book had me at the Travis McGhee quote preceding the story.

In a nutshell, "Getting the Girl" is the full-disclosure of underdog ninth-grader, Sherman Mack. Achingly awkward, Sherman spends his teenaged years with his Burlesque-dancing mother and few male role models. A product of his environment, Sherman feels particularly attuned to the female psyche. Luckily, he has entered the realm of high school where there are plenty of ladies to dazzle. Well, one in particular: Sherman’s heart thrills to an older and more sophisticated artist, tenth grader Dini.

The drama plays out on the stage of common high school hierarchy: cliques and typified jocks, "Trophy Wives" and even drug dealers. Amidst the usual teenage commotion lurks the Defiler: a student whose branding of young women becomes their social downfall. With a gawdy “D” scrawled across a photo of the Defiled girl, a regular student is exploited in a manner akin to Hester Prynne’s ostracizing “A.”

(Yes, I did just compare Susan Juby to Nathaniel Hawthorne—I told you I liked this book).

Spurned and scorned, the unfortunate Defiled are relegated to life on the boundaries of the school fence or in Alternative schools. When Sherman suspects that Dini is next on the Defiler’s hit list, he musters his courage and his fledgling senses of deduction (read CSI episodes) and sallies forth to save his lady fair.

Armed with a super-hero complex, an awkward friend Rick ( Sherm tells us that he is second-last in team-picking only to Rick), a flair for surveillance ( from obsessive watching of girls ) and a sense of (sometimes misguided ) justice, Sherman is determined to expose the Defiler.

You’ll get lost in this book. First, in the nooks and crevices of Sherman’s brain and then in the writing-- so flawless I felt a full conceptualization of what must go through a ninth grade boy’s mind (Unsettling, indeed).

I completely enjoyed this book --- it had some to-die-for lines and some tender, wistful moments. I know teenagers will see themselves in this book and that is the beauty (and likewise the most important part) of a Susan Juby novel. Teenagers can draw strength and validation from fictional characters that so candidly reflect their own triumphs and fallacies.

What makes "Getting the Girl" as exceptional as its predecessors ( see the "Alice Macleod" series and "Another Kind of Cowboy") is Juby’s candid freshness. She relays, through inner commentary, what we are all thinking in strange, fleeting moments. Juby’s craft is most prominent in her first person male narrative. I came to understand Sherman’s 15-year-old male subconscious. I am not quite sure how she pulled this off (perhaps some of the make-up of pubescent males is transparently obvious) but she executes it with a voice at times awkward, self-effacing and vulnerable.

I could think of no other author who could accomplish this feat with such ease and heart-tugging grace.

So go buy it ….and then buy some for your friends. Teenage boys and girls will love this novel.

p.s. Anyone know if this book has been banned yet? The Juby bannings are always wildly ridiculous, infinitely amusing and wonderful fodder for discussion on her blog.

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