Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Book Review: Smart Girls Get What They Want

Summary: Gigi, Bea, and Neerja have always been best friends--and book nerds. They've always studied the hardest and achieved the most. But, suddenly, they find themselves asking: at what cost?


I did not connect with this book.

In high school, I was a complete nerd. An A-plus student always; honour roll regular and scholar extraordinaire. And still, I did not connect with this book.

And I don't know why.

On its surface, I think Strohmeyer poses some interesting questions, ones I have often asked myself over the years: Are academics really worth it? What do you really get out of it? And what do you miss out on because of it? And, on the surface, I love that Strohmeyer is celebrating smart girls so much. It's a positive message, one which popular culture so rarely champions; it's music to my ears.

I was Gigi in high school. Just without the best friends. I studied like mad day and night. I prepared for every question on every test, in every subject. I fit my life around my academics, instead of my academics around my life. I rose and fell with every test mark, every essay critique. And, as I look back on high school, I often ask myself: was it all worth it? In her basic premise, I think Strohmeyer understands that worry. In her execution, however, I did not feel understood at all.

Sometimes, when I read books I feel like the author is able to read my mind, like they're somehow able to know me in ways no one ever has. I love that feeling; to me, that is the magic of reading. While reading this novel, I expected that connection. I yearned for it. This was a situation so close to my own experience; the connections should have sparked on every page. Instead, to me, the words failed to ignite. Instead of elation, I felt frustration, over and over and over again.

It didn't feel like Strohmeyer had been a nerd; it felt like she had studied nerds. She got a handful of moments right--Gigi's obsession with Bones, the late nights working on papers, the utterly amazing moment in the bookstore with Mike, when Gigi describes her love of romance novels. And the friendship between Gigi and Bea and Neerja, while not very similar to my experiences at all, was certainly sweet and genuine. I loved how Gigi considered her friends feelings and sacrificed for them. That felt real and just so right.

But Strohmeyer also got so many moments wrong. Some parts felt simply tone deaf to me. Gigi's fear of presentations was rather absurd, in my opinion. I am super shy and awkward and terrible at giving presentations. Or, at least, I used to be. But then I had to do them so often, I just didn't care anymore. Seriously, in grade nine French class I had a teacher who made me do a presentation every single week in a language I didn't understand at all. Teachers do not care if you are bad at public speaking. They make you do it in every single subject. I gave weekly speeches in English and French. I did skits in biology. I even had presentations in math and gym classes. No one would spare me, no matter how much I hated it each and every time. Which is why I did not buy Gigi's explanation that teachers did not make her do presentations anymore, because they knew the result. No, for Gigi to get as good marks as she did, she would have had to do what I did, time and time again: put the mark before the fear. She would have had to invent a version of herself that could get up and speak in public. If she wanted the 90%, that's what it would have taken. I know--I've been there.

Beyond that, there were lots of smaller things that felt off to me. The fact that, as they became increasingly involved in extra curricular activities--not to mention romantic activities--there was no mention of how their grades were affected. Which is wrong. Every moment they spent having fun or whatever was a moment they didn't spend studying. If they were giving up their lives for academics, they should've had to give up some of their academic achievements for their new lives. It's a basic equation; it's the only thing that makes sense. Furthermore, I was quite bothered by the idea that smart kids had to be well versed in high culture. There were numerous times throughout the novel that a character would be considered dumb and then--Oh My God!--it was discovered that they read Anna Karenina, so they were actually smart. Now, I know a lot of nerdy, academic kids. And most of them watch shows like Gossip Girl and read so-called "lighter" books. Seriously, when you spend all your time analyzing poetry and understanding complicated math formulas and learning about European history, you just want to relax at the end of the day. You do not want to read insanely complicated Russian novels. On a literal level, that did not make sense to me. On a philosophical level, it just annoyed me. I hate culture snobs. I hate that this book validated them so much.

I'm ranting and ranting about minute details, I know. I apologize. This is just a very hard book for me to judge. Because I so very much wanted to like it. I wanted to connect with it. But try as I might, I just couldn't. So, ranting and roaring over, I guess I'll just say that this book didn't really work for me, but that, in no way, should stop it from working for you. At its core, Smart Girls Get What They Want is a semi-unique book with a very positive message. Perhaps you will be able to connect with it better than I did. Perhaps it is just too close to my experiences for me to judge. What do you think, readers: have you ever felt disconnected from a book because it was too close to your life?


  1. Great review, but GAH! You didn't enjoy it! I was hoping you would. I guess I'm far enough out of high school- where I was called brainiac- that certain things didn't bug me (e.g. the parts about giving presentations, getting more involved with extra curriculars). And I get your point about culture snobs. Just because you read "smart stuff" does not make you smart. And just because you read chick lit, or lighter stuff, does not make you a moron.

    I read it for the contemporary romance it set out to be. Though I can see that if I were to have read this a a teen, I might have been annoyed. Though, I think I would have liked to romance between Mike and Gigi! Always a romantic at heart!

  2. ...oops. I mean, "I would have like THE romance between..." Years of academics and yet editing goes out the window.

    1. I liked the romance between Mike and Gigi. But I didn't love it--any guy who insults romance novels is an idiot in my book!

  3. Katherine! I usually make it a policy to never respond to negative reviews and I guess I'm keeping it because I'm not responding to the "negativity" of the review as much as to a) thank you for reading the book and b) thank you for putting so much thought and interpretation into the book that probably doesn't deserve that much more thought and determination and c) to defend my nerd cred.

    Honey, high school was HORRIBLE for me and the only way I got through it was by studying my butt off with the idea that it would get me out of the place. I DID have a great set of friends, but they went to the prom and I didn't. I did not have one single boyfriend besides a guy from my church who took me to my first date, Henrik Ibsen's play Hedda Gabler. When he kissed me at the door (Dad was driving) I threw up. The next time I was kissed, at an Andover summer session, I also threw up and all the "cool girls" from California made fun of me. I was president of the Steve Martin fan club where we held Nothing-a-Thons, I did the Big Fig Newton Dance, I quoted Star Trek and wore my hair pulled back in a red bandana and not in a hipster way. I wore hand-sewn skirts so often one girl asked me if it was because of my religion. Oh, I could go on and on.

    So, while there are plenty of books about being the long-suffering nerd in high school, I wanted to write one for 16 year old me - an aspirational "fantasy" that would have helped me survive.

    I hope this explains some of your points. Otherwise, OF COURSE you're entitled to your opinion and I would never criticize, condemn or otherwise berate you for that. Duh. And your review was vert nicely written so kudos to you!

    Okay, I apologize for barging in. As you were -



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