Big Mouth and Ugly Girl by Joyce Carol Oates

Big Mouth and Ugly Girl by Joyce Carol Oates

Oates, Joyce Carol. Big Mouth and Ugly Girl. Harper Teen, 2003. ISBN 978-0064473477 288 pp. $


Award-winning adult author Oates explores what could happen in post-Columbine era when it can be dangerous not to take every remark seriously. When the class clown jokingly says he wants to [destroy] the school at lunch, someone reports him to the principal and suspension and media frenzy ensues. In spite of the fact that Matt is popular, not one of his friends stands up for him. One person does though–Ursula, a gangly and unattractive misfit basketball player who believes in justice. Their friendship gets off to a rocky start but eventually evolves into trust and then gradually turns to romance.

Told in randomly alternating chapters from Ursula’s first person point of view to Matt’s second person, the reading is fast, sprinkled with emails and chunks of dialogue.

While her protagonists are interesting, something about the way they speak doesn’t quite ring true, and it isn’t quite realistic that the two don’t hook up sooner. Matt’s descent into depression is wholly believable. The kidnapping of Matt’s dog is a subplot designed to expose the tattlers, but lacks drama.

It would be interesting to see how this turned out if it hadn’t been intended for YA’s. I have to be honest, I might have liked the book if I hadn’t read an article from Book magazine w/ Oates in which it was quite clear that neither she nor the reviewer knew anything about YA lit. Oates seemed overly proud that this was the first book to address this topic, but Todd Strasser’s Give a Boy a Gun (Simon & Schuster, 2000) and Ron Koertge’s Brimstone Journals (Candlewick, 2001) both predate her.

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