Compulsively Readable Paperbacks
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Blueprints for Building Better Girls
Simon & Schuster
Elissa Schappell is not for the fainthearted. In this collection of eight revelatory, risky stories, we meet the girls that all mothers fear their daughter might become—or, to varying degrees, the girls we might have become ourselves. One turns to hate to cover her vulnerability, while another suffers from an eating disorder, in some part due to her mother's all-consuming embrace. The most shocking story follows a college coed through her days of binge drinking and blacking out during a relentless parade of frat house parties. Surprisingly, it's also the most moving. Schappell has the ability—and the guts—to cut straight through the "girls gone wild" images that inevitably throb to mind (ouch) and show us the tender and often hopeful human beings that live inside these women-to-be.
In one upsetting scene, a group of angry, male bar patrons chases the coed and her friends across a deserted parking lot. As she jumps into a car to escape, the coed feels her mother's treasured strand of pearls break and must leave those pearls rolling hopelessly across the asphalt—save for one, about which she wonders if she has any right to even keep. "Maybe some farm kid walking down the street would find it..." she says. "And then they'd think that maybe the world wasn't as ugly as they thought it was. Maybe there was magic in it after all."
A rule for us all: There is always magic in a gift from your mother. Always.
— Leigh Newman