Fifteen-year-old Macy Cashmere is emotionally disturbed, at least according to her school, teachers, and family. But her life is heartbreakingly difficult—her father is in prison, her brother was taken away by Child Protective Services, and her mother is involving herself with a string of abusive men who make occasional passes at Macy. She has just two friends: honor student Alma, who hopes that school will save her, and George, who wears a helmet due to an injury sustained after the brutal murder of his sister. Macy’s story is told as a series of vignettes, each framed by a word in Macy’s “dictionary” (“Answer. Noun. Example: ‘Ahnsuh me, bitch!’ ”) with a tenuous narrative thread. Debut author Ramos shows Macy navigating the difficulties of school and home while plagued by deaths, threats to her safety, and a constant, nagging hunger. Ramos makes effective use of vernacular to channel Macy’s anger, anguish, and sharp-edged perspective in a disturbing but empathetic portrait of life as a child in poverty. Ages 14–up. Agent: Emily Keyes, Fuse Literary. (Feb.)
"Macy's blunt story is a harrowing, heartbreaking tour de force.
NoNieqa Ramos's The Disturbed Girl's Dictionary turns the spotlight on Macy Cashmere, a high school girl who lives in the margins of society. Noncompliant and proudly emotionally disturbed, she's a problem that refuses to be solved, whether at home or at school.
Poverty's where Macy is from, and she's acutely aware of how it shapes and labels her, but she's determined to reconfigure who's defined by such labels and who's doing the defining. You see, Macy's writing her own booka secret dictionary that lays out the terms of the world as she understands them.
Macy's childhood is long past. Her father is in prison. Home is chaotic, and basic necessitiesfrom food to heat to a place to sleepare never assured. Child Protective Services removed her younger brother and would like to take Macy too, but Macy stubbornly insists on remaining, stuck between her yearning to salvage some sense of home and her desire to burn it all down.
Her life swings between this tension and her school routine. A problem student, Macy is nonetheless deeply engagedin the well-being of her best friends, Alma and George; in the comforting control of breaking school rules and fulfilling her 'bad kid' role; and in all that she ponders deeply.
Macy's charisma is riveting. A keen observer, she's unsparing in her assessment of herself and the world around her. Her blunt, no-nonsense voice lays out her most gruesome circumstances alongside her bald yearning and makes her world of pain compellingly irresistible. More than anything, she is an unexpected narrator. Again and again, she directly addresses readers and slaps down assumptions. A study in contradictions, she insists on her world's complexity, and she's right. The story jukes and jinks and demands you follow.
As in Macy's world, nothing in this dictionary is blunted or made safe for children; the circumstances of her life are laid bare. The result is a harrowing, heartbreaking tour de force, a story of will and determination against all odds."starred, Foreword Reviews
Gr 9 Up—Fifteen-year-old Puerto Rican Macy Cashmere keeps a personal journal in dictionary format which gives readers insight into the mind of a teen disappointed by her urban environment and most of the adults in her life. Labeled "disturbed" by the school system, she lives in constant hunger, sleeping in the bathtub to avoid uncomfortable events in the rest of her apartment. She clings to her relationship with her "bestie," a beautiful, intelligent young Latina going through her own family traumas, together with their friend George, who, despite his own challenges, serves as a stabilizing force. Teacher Mrs. Black is the singular adult who seems to provide deep acceptance, caring, and timely words of encouragement. Intra-textual references between dictionary entries provide clues about past and future events until they meet in real time at the plot's climax. This complex story of love and loss can lead to insightful discussions about the problematic label of "disturbed." The book concludes with some hope but not a complete resolution which makes it realistic in a lingering way. While this text includes strong language, the use of inventive spelling to defy school grammar, and content suitable for older readers, it may provide students with similar life experiences from an identifiable protagonist and serve as a catalyst for critical educator-facilitated discussions. VERDICT Purchase where Isabel Quintero's Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is popular.—Ruth Quiroa, National Louis University, Lisle, IL
Officially classified as "disturbed," Macy vents her rage, frustrations, and fears in a dictionary-style journal. According to her high school, 15-year-old Macy (who's of Puerto Rican descent) is ADHD, compulsive, learning disabled, and emotionally disturbed. Thanks to her caring English teacher, Miss Black, Macy keeps a detailed, secret "dictionary" in which she shares words and definitions relating to her life, from "always/never" to "zombie." Macy's family life is unimaginably difficult: she goes hungry outside of school, Daddy's in prison, Mami sleeps with abusive men (who creepily come on to Macy as well), and baby brother Zane was recently "kidnapped by CPS" to a foster home. Macy is also aggressive, angry, and intimidating. Despite her circumstances, Macy has two unconditional friends: her patient bestie, Alma, who hopes to earn a college scholarship, and George, a loyal, nearly mute trauma survivor who always wears a helmet. Macy's grittily honest accounts can be hard to process and the stylized language, off-putting (as when she substitutes "f" for "th" in "breaf," "Birfday," "baftub"), but her voice is inimitably unique in contemporary teen literature. The heartbreaking events are almost unbearable, but the author depicts them with authenticity and empathy—even when Macy wields a machete to fix a problem. Ramos' relevant and thought-provoking debut is a powerful addition to any collection. (Fiction. 14-17)