Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Girls Like Us

Giles' book about two girls with an intellectual disability has been praised and received several awards.  Reviewers have noted its sensitive approach to the material.  To me?  It felt like a gimmick.  Which hurt.

Biddy and Quincy are both "Speddies" (in their school's Special Ed program).  It's their year to graduate, and since Quincy has been in foster care and Biddy's grandmother would rather have nothing to do with her, a social worker arranges for the two girls to be roommates.  Since Quincy's disability is less severe than Biddy's, she gets a job at the local supermarket, working in the deli.  Biddy will clean for the woman who is renting them their apartment.


Okay, hold up.  The real issue I had with this book?  It purports to be sympathetic to these girls and their unique challenges but ends up being the same old same old Problem Book about persons with intellectual disabilities.  And it makes some really disturbing parallels (intentionally?  I don't know) between PWD and slaves.  Like, during slavery in America.

Once the two girls graduate high school, they go to work for an older white woman.  She is, of course, their munificent benefactor.  Although presumably being from the same town, she does not speak with their heavy Southern American English accent.  She even plays the magical savior and tries to reunite Biddy with the baby that she gave up for adoption.  Lizbeth teaches the girls how to have "princess" table manners.

Are you serious?  Yeah, the whole fairy godmother thing didn't work out in the end, but it's the fact that Elizabeth thought it was okay for her to pry into these girls' personal lives that bothered me.  Like they're not really people, but pets.

Plus, the use of the Southern American English accent for both girls unfortunately will evoke a negative response in many readers.  Let me explain: writers have long used this accent--"Girl, what you done ain't nothin'"--as a shorthand for someone who is uneducated, poor, or in a low social status.  I'm not saying it's correct or right, but that's what many writers do.  It's become a kind of shorthand for "white trash."  Again, I don't think that people who have an SAE accent are any of those things, but it's unfortunately been pretty common in literature and film to use that accent as a way to demean someone.  By having both Biddy and Quincy speak this way, but not Elizabeth, Giles is intimating that these girls, because of their accent, are already, in a way, intellectually "behind" others.

It's hard for me to fully articulate why this made me so uneasy, but I ended up with hollow, despairing knot in my stomach when I finished.  My apologies for such a meandering, boring review, but I can't summon any anger about this book.  I can't really feel anything other than disappointment.

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