Tonight was the book group gathering for July and we discussed Big Mouth & Ugly Girl by Joyce Carol Oates. We did not know when we chose it that the book was considered a young adult selection. One member of the group suggested a couple of titles written by Oates and we picked this one based on the description of the book.
Big Mouth is a young man who is funny, well-liked and talented. He also craves the attention of his friends. He gets into trouble one day during lunch for making a joking comment about being violent at the school and is reported to the principal. The experience of his interrogation by police and being ostracized once he returns to school has a profound effect on a boy who seemed content with his world. And now that world is turned upside down because of his big mouth.
Ugly Girl is a young woman who is a loner, athlete and the voice of reason during the school's crisis. She overhears the boy's comments, knows the context of the conversation and makes the decision to speak out so the truth will be known. She remains apart from the ebb and flow of high school life and shields herself in the persona she created called Ugly Girl. She is smart, unswayed by the opinions of others but is not content with her world. Her world, too, is eventually changed dramatically because of the events that open the book.
I was very impressed that the author handled a lot of issues that impact high school students - school violence, body image, peer pressure, family relationships, depression, etc. - in a deft manner without being preachy or melodramatic. The topics are introduced via conversations or the action of the novel in a natural way that makes all of the events wholly believable and the characters convincing.
I thoroughly enjoyed this thought-provoking book and would recommend it to all adults - young, old or anywhere in between. I also plan on reading more from Joyce Carol Oates.