YA Book Review: Back to School for the First Time in This Girl is Different

This Girl Is Different by J.J. Johnson. Published by Peachtree Publishers, 2011.

For lots of kids, parents, and young adults, September signals time to re-adjust to the schedule and lifestyle of school. For a homeschooler attending school for the very first time, this transition is much more difficult…and exciting! J.J Johnson’s young adult novel This Girl is Different centers around Evie, a homeschooler, entering school for the first time as a high school senior. This book flips the typical high school narrative on its head. Evie has to beg her mother to go to school. She wants to meet more people and experience a lifestyle she has only seen in movies. Before school even starts, Evie happens to befriend kindhearted Jacinda and Jacinda’s cute cousin Rajas, both seniors. But Evie quickly discovers that she knows less than she thought she did about the rules and cut-throat culture of public school.

Fans of the movie Mean Girls or the middle grade novel Stargirl may enjoy this book which tackles the ups and downs of high school popularity and teenage relationships. Homeschoolers may be happy to see themselves represented in a young adult novel, while attendees of traditional schools might enjoy contemplating the homeschool life and looking at school from a new perspective. In This Girl is Different, Johnson poses many interesting issues about the American education system, and power structures in general. Evie is surprised to discover how little time she is allowed to spend outside, as well as the fact that teachers have the power to get her in trouble for seemingly small infractions. Countless other structural aspects of school strike Evie as odd and unreasonable.

The book is not without its flaws. Johnson’s depiction of Evie and her mother falls under a type of homeschooling stereotype. Evie’s mother is a rabble-rousing, sustainably living woman who named her daughter “Evensong Sparkling Morningdew,” and whose daughter refers to her simply as “Martha” (not “mom.”) Johnson could have addressed the fact that the homseschooling community is diverse and people homeschool their children for all kinds of reasons.

Books about homeschoolers, however, are extremely rare, and this is a fun, quick read regardless. Evie and her mother are more complex than the slightly stereotypical depiction would imply. Similarly, Jacinda defies Evie’s expectation of a cheerleader, turning out to be both kind and smart. Johnson encourages the reader to look past first impressions and stereotypes, to consider the perspectives of others, and to be yourself no matter what.

Emily Butler
Emily has a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Simmons College. She currently works as a Research Librarian at Deerfield Academy, an independent boarding and day school. She has a strong passion for both academic and creative writing, which she enjoys sharing with students. You can find more of her book reviews in School Library Journal.

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