As you might know, Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favorite authors. I currently own 6 of her books and am always on the lookout for more. I love how tragically realistic her books are – sometimes life just sucks and it doesn’t get better. Some families can’t do a Dr Phil reconciliation and just keep clashing, over and over again. Some people just always are unhappy. And little things people do to each other can resonate for years. I don’t even want to think about the big things people do to hurt each other, frankly.
Somehow, though, her books don’t depress me. I think this is true for two reasons: one, I find recognizing that life has the potential to suck mightily makes me more able to take control of my own life, paradoxically enough. Also (two), Oates may be tragically realistic, but she does know how to focus on the little moments that make life good, whether they’re little interactions between people, or big courageous acts people do for another.
Big Mouth and Ugly Girl is about one of those courageous acts. Succinctly put, after Matt Donaghy is falsely accused of wanting to bomb his high school and massacre his fellow students, his life spins out of control. He comes into contact with Ursala Rigg, a loudmouth ‘big girl’ who doesn’t fit in, and doesn’t really want to, when she stands up for him in school. They become fast friends and learn some lessons about life and loyalty along the way. (some after-school-special music, now, please.)
This isn’t a typical Joyce Carol Oates book. For one thing, there’s a happy ending. That probably has to do with the fact that it’s young adult fiction, which tends to be less complex (that’s probably a good thing. Teenagers can be so messed up already, they really don’t need to read about all the ways life can go wrong once you’re an adult). It was a nice, entertaining read, made memorable perhaps because I could recognize myself in loudmouth Ursala, who has trouble showing her feelings. We all wear masks, and it was nice to see Ursala’s come off and to close the book with a feeling that she’ll be alright, in the end.
I’d give it a 7/10 and recommend to anyone in the mood for a feel-good introduction to Joyce Carol Oates.