EW talks YA: Why these two extraordinary teen tales deserve your attention
EW is here to provide reviews and recommendations for the biggest new YA titles. Looking back on August titles, we’ve reviewed a modern-day Thelma and Louise, as well as a nuanced depiction of a teenager whose family is rocked by addiction. Check out our roundup below, and in case you missed our column from July, we’ve got you covered.
August’s Top Pick: Hello Girls, by Brittany Cavallaro and Emily Henry
Hello Girls is a modern Thelma and Louise souped-up on neon-soaked steroids.
Winona Olsen and Lucille Pryce forged their friendship on one dark and stormy night outside a police station. Winona has a seemingly perfect life, yet no one but Lucille knows the truth about how her father abuses her, burning her with cigarettes and clamping locks on the pantry to limit her food intake. Meanwhile, Lucille struggles to keep her and her mother’s head above water, while her drug-dealing brother squanders every cent he makes. They both dream of a way out, and on one particularly harrowing night, they make a run for it in a stolen convertible.
Winona is naïve, trapped in the ivory tower of her father’s making. In contrast, Lucille is world-weary, an 18-year-old whose had enough men, hard living, and scrounging to get by to last her a lifetime. And yet, the two fill an essential gap for the other, building a friendship forged in loyalty, desperation, and hope.
If Gillian Flynn decided to write a YA novel, it might go something like this. Hello Girls fiercely examines friendship and female rage, roiling with violence so palpable you can almost taste the metallic tang of the blood spilling off the page. From page one, the book pulsates with a page-turning righteous fury that constantly threatens to spill over into something more dangerous. Lucille and Winona are desperate for something more than the hand they’ve been dealt — more than the terrible men in their lives, more than the sense of abandonment they feel from their mothers, more than every expectation that’s ever been thrown their way by virtue of their sex. And the only place to find that is the open road, where their worst impulses and most hedonistic ideas can run unchecked.
Cavallaro and Henry write with sharp, crisp voices, imbuing their heroines with wit and outsized imagination. They capture the idiosyncrasies of young female friendship with startling acuity, nailing the deep care and love of these relationships. There’s not a hint of overly stereotyped rivalry or cattiness, just unflinching loyalty in the face of a cruel world. At times, their adventure and their misdeeds stretch the bounds of reality, but Winona and Lucille are meant to be larger-than-life figures. They take the phrase “ride or die” to its literal extreme, as a means of creating a channel for issues that continue to be relevant nearly 30 years after Thelma and Louise first hit theaters. It’s all there: the gross stupidity of certain men and their tendency to underestimate women, the desperation that comes with needing a way out of a narrow box life has put you in, and the notion that your sister by choice might be the only one to have your back to the end of the line. Its ending is more ambiguous but equally as heartbreaking.
Hello Girls is an intense book, one that might be too much for readers on the younger end of the YA scale. But it’s an essential one, too: a novel that taps into something elemental about the ferocity of female adolescence and luxuriates in that space to create a page-turning tale with a potent electric current at its heart. A- —Maureen Lee Lenker
The Revolution of Birdie Randolph, by Brandy Colbert
Brandy Colbert’s slow-burn The Revolution of Birdie Randolph offers a welcome take on the coming of age narrative.
Dove “Birdie” Randolph is a dedicated student, set to graduate at the top of her high school class, and at just 16 is pursuing the life her hard-working parents have laid out for her. She attends SAT prep classes in lieu of fun after-school activities and spends the rest of her free time helping out at her mother’s salon. But when her aunt Carlene resurfaces, having just gone through another stint in rehab, Dove is forced to confront some painful truths about her family that knock her off course. She’s also falling hard for Booker, a thoughtful former athlete with a troubled past and his own personal struggles to confront. As her new relationships deepen, Dove begins to question everything she knows.
This engaging but sensitive exploration of how addiction impacts families and relationships is both touching and uplifting. Colbert thoughtfully delves into the complexities of working toward sobriety and the strain it puts on those who must act as a support system. While the events that play out initially are not particularly gripping, the dynamics between the characters are so immersive you cannot help but be invested in the lives portrayed.
There’s a refreshing realism to the intimacy between Dove and Booker, as the two connect over grief and marginalization while Dove and Carlene’s growing bond resonates. Colbert’s ability to craft characters who one cannot help but care for makes the conclusion of Birdie Randolph that much more shattering.
Set across a Chicago backdrop, the story also touches on pertinent issues, gentrification and the mounting crime rate among them. While these realities cast a slight shadow, they never overpower the welcomed lightness of Dove’s perspective and the novel’s energetic tone overall. A- —Justine Browning