Review: The Stone Girl

Welcome to The Stone Girl blog tour!

The Stone Girl by Alyssa B. Sheinmel. Knopf Books for Younger Readers, an imprint of Random House. 2012. Reviewed from eArc from NetGalley.

The Plot: Sarah Beth “Sethie” Weiss is a senior at the prestigious Franklin White girl’s school. She gets good grades, has a cute boyfriend, a perfect life. She is a scholarship student who works hard for it all. Working hard includes saying and doing all the right “cool” things around her boyfriend Shaw, whether it’s learning how to smoke a bong, sneaking into the empty apartment next door, or not holding his hand in public because he doesn’t like public displays of affection. Then there’s what Sethie does to make sure she looks the right way, to make sure the scale never goes above 111.

The Good: The Stone Girl is a character study: a portrait of funny, brittle, Sethie, smart in some areas, in others, not so much.

Sethie has — issues. 

Being smart does not change that she is convinced that she is one half bagel away from fat.

Being smart does doe not stop her from being blind to the truth about a boy who doesn’t want to hold her hand in public.

The outside world may see a typical New York City private school girl, thin and pretty and smart and cool. Inside, though, much more is going on.

My heart broke for Sethie; because she is so smart, and so funny, and I just wanted for her to stop her various, escalating, self-destructive behaviours. I’ll be honest: I’m hesitant to put any label on Sethie, such as anorexic or bulimic, depression or low self esteem. In addition, Sethie isn’t the most reliable narrator. There is no simple label to explain what Sethie does, what she is going through, what she feels. It’s why I see this as a detailed, intimate, emotional portrait of one girl; it’s not a problem book about a girl with an issue.

While reading The Stone Girl I dreaded just how bad it would get for Sethie and what it would take for Sethie and those around her to realize what was going on behind the perfect facade. The Stone Girl is Sethie’s descent, day by day, as things get worse and worse, as pounds go, as she discovers new ways to gain feelings of control over her life.

Sheinmel plunges the reader deeply into Sethie’s world view, yet not so deeply that the reader isn’t aware of a bigger picture than Sethie tells. Take Shaw, for instance. Here is Sethie meeting up with him after school, being the “cool” person she thinks he wants: “‘Hey kiddo,’ he says, and she stands next to him. He does not kiss her hello. He does not put an arm around her. To show she is his, she takes his cigarette from him, and takes a long drag from it.” For a few chapters, I confess that I thought she was indeed showing others this, that her friends and classmates did not kiss their significant others on the street. I believed what Sethie told me.

Everything else, particularly his failure to treat her as his girlfriend in public while he sleeps with her, screams to the reader that Shaw is not what Sethie wants him to be. However, there are other things that the reader cannot be sure of, because Sethie is so deep into her illness. Is her mother truly unaware, for instance. Is everything at school as perfect as Sethie says.

Sethie’s boyfriend does one good thing: he introduces her to Janey, who becomes her best friend. Janey may appear to be a Poor Little Rich Girl out of the pages of a gossip girl type book, with neglectful parents and plenty of spending money, but also becomes a good friend to Sethie.

Am I doing Sethie justice? I’m afraid I’m not — that this seems too dark or bleak. That Sethie seems too dark or bleak. It isn’t; there is also humor and laughter. Here is Sethie on August: “It’s the first week of September, but August hasn’t given up yet. Sethie thinks that August is like Summer’s bitter older sister — everyone looks forward to June and July, but by August, they want summer’s refreshing half-brother, September. No one longs for August by the time it rolls around. And then August doesn’t even have the good manners to leave on time. ‘Bitch,’ Sethie thinks with satisfaction.”

 There are friends and people who care about Sethie. Despite that — one of the things I loved about The Stone Girl? There is no saviour for Sethie, no new man or good girlfriend who will Save Her. The only one who can save Sethie is herself, but will she be able to?

One thing I like looking for in books: different realities being shown. Sethie is a private school girl, yes, but like the characters in Sheinmel’s earlier novels (The Beautiful Between and The Lucky Kind), it’s not the uber rich New York City, it’s one of scholarships, working parents, apartments rather than penthouses. Sethie is Jewish; and that’s another thing I like about Sheinmel’s books. They add to the diversity of books about people who are Jewish, books with people are not overly religious but who are culturally Jewish.

Because I worry about Sethie, and hope she is OK. Because Sethie’s head was a hard place to leave. Because I love Sheinmel’s writing. The Stone Girl is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.

Other reviews: New York Times Sunday Book Review; blog tour stops; Kirkus Book Reviews.


3 thoughts on “Review: The Stone Girl

  1. I wanted to help Sethie, too. I think the narrative being in third-person rather than first-person really helped create that sense of distance – the writer put that between the reader and Sethie, just as Sethie was putting that distance, that illusion, between reality and what she perceived, as she pretended everything was fine when it wasn’t. And, without spoiling it too much for folks reading my comment right now, yay for Janey.


  2. LW, oh, yes, another good reason for using the 3rd person! And Janey — actually, one thing I liked about this book is that in looking at the relationships between girls, food, power, it’s nuanced and beyond labelling. Including Janey.


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