Serious Girls

Overview

When her grandmother insists that Maya be sent away to boarding school, the sixteen-year-old feels as if her life has turned a new page. Raised in the remote countryside by her bohemian mother, Maya finds herself isolated in the all-girl community. When Roe, another outsider, becomes her friend, the two girls tell each other their life stories and speculate as to what growing up might mean. How do they become "people" with style and character as opposed to schoolgirls?

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Overview

When her grandmother insists that Maya be sent away to boarding school, the sixteen-year-old feels as if her life has turned a new page. Raised in the remote countryside by her bohemian mother, Maya finds herself isolated in the all-girl community. When Roe, another outsider, becomes her friend, the two girls tell each other their life stories and speculate as to what growing up might mean. How do they become "people" with style and character as opposed to schoolgirls?

Their desire to be adults takes them beyond the closed world of the school into the local town and the city, where they experiment with being grown up - shopping in thrift stores, confronting their fears as they try new identities, and wondering about sex. Both girls test the precarious line between an emerging sense of self and its total disintegration in the very different relationships from which they eventually escape, wiser and secure once again in their friendship and curiosity about life.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Serious Girls confronts the complex torments of adolescent loneliness and unbelonging, the impatience for ''life'' to begin and the ill-defined yearnings that ensue. — Laura Moser
VOYA
Swann's novel touts itself as a story about growing up and becoming a woman. Her flowery writing style gets in the way of overall themes and mars development. It seems that Serious Girls paints an unrealistic picture of adolescence. VOYA Codes 2Q 3P J S A/YA (Better editing or work by the author might have warranted a 3Q; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed book recommended for Young Adults). 2003, Picador/St. Martin's Press, 256p., Ages 12 to Adult.
—Theodora Ranelli, Teen Reviewer
Library Journal
After being sent to boarding school by her grandmother, Maya and new friend Roe experiment with clothing, venture into New York on their own, and have their first sexual relationships. They're hoping to gain the experience that will transform them into distinct, memorable individuals, but the results are not what they had expected. Similar to Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea in its floral imagery and exploration of the imbalance of power between the sexes, this novel offers observations about the balancing act of adolescent growth and descriptions of surrounding scenery that are quite deft and lovely. However, Swann's first novel does not dare to go far enough in its exploration of teenage girls' expeditions into adult life and their recuperation from the mistakes made, along the way. It is too mild-mannered, and the characters are distant. As Roe says, "What I want right now is to feel alive, the whole way through." This book has glimmers of life, but not the whole way through; its strength lies in description, not characterization. Recommended for large public libraries where there is an interest in literary fiction.-Amy Ford, Charles Cty. P.L., Waldorf, MD Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
With sensitivity and quiet wit, O. Henry Award-winner Swann delineates the turmoil of adolescence. Maya and Roe are both misfits at their posh boarding school in the suburbs of New York City. Roe is a scholarship student from the South, raised by her strict military father after a car hit and killed her mother. Maya, whose tuition is being paid by her wealthy, dissolute grandmother, grew up in rural isolation with an unmarried mother who rejected her privileged background. The 16-year-olds bond over their passion for books-Roe loves Russian novels; Maya's favorite is Jane Eyre-and their alienation from the other girls: "They're like a spectacle we're watching. We only want to spend time among ourselves." First-novelist Swann captures with marvelous clarity the sense young adults have of waiting for "life" to begin, of searching for clues as to who they might be. Roe and Maya buy clothes in thrift shops, trying on outfits the way they try on identities. They spend Saturdays in Manhattan, intoxicated by a city in which "the gap between desire and action narrows and, at certain moments, simply falls away." A highly alcoholic Christmas with Maya's grandmother, the book's funniest, scariest section, suggests that living wholly by desire's imperatives may not be such a good idea. But both girls rush toward experience anyway, seeking to overcome their anxieties. Narrator Maya, who confesses to being scared of people, embarks on a love affair with Arthur, a 32-year-old art writer. Roe, whose deepest fear is "that something will happen . . . an accident or tragedy of some kind," gets involved with Jesse, a troubled local boy who beats her up. Summer vacations with their respective men are equalthough different disasters (not quite as sharply conceived as the scenes that precede them) from which the girls emerge slightly battered but stronger. "Life, we've agreed, has definitely started." Wonderfully perceptive and precise about an age that's too often portrayed in vague generalities.
From the Publisher
"Maxine Swann's novel is a small masterpiece. Entirely original, it combines Proust's attention to the inner life, Colette's understanding of the body, and Jean Rhys's knowledge of the dangers of love." —Mary Gordon, author of Spending
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312288013
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 12/1/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Meet the Author

Maxine Swann's short story "Flower Children" won the Cohen Award, The O. Henry Award, the Pushcart Prize and was included in The Best American Short Stories (1998). Serious Girls is her first novel.

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