I was sent The Ugly Little Girl by Elizabeth Kesses, by someone who thought I might be able to make use of the book in school, dealing as it does with the sensitive subject of bullying.
It tells the story of Libby, bullied at home by her mother and older sister, and ineffectually supported by her loving but pretty useless dad, she is also bullied at school, day in and day out.
Her self-esteem has gone and she has given up her dream of becoming a professional dancer. She feels that life is pointless, until one night she wakes up to find herself at the Odd Bods Academy, a kind of Hogwarts for those with poor self image. Every night Libby travels to Odd Bods and learns how to find her true self again.
The premise of the book is great, but there are huge issues with it, which mean that I would be unable to stock it in our school library.
Firstly, there are a huge number of typos and grammatical mistakes in the book which would make me incredibly reluctant to pass it on to a child. There are also random tense changes in the middle of sentences and paragraphs, and textual and narrative inconsistencies throughout, which were so numerous they were impossible to ignore.
Secondly, there are certain passages which make it inappropriate for a primary readership. Some of the bullying that Libby receives, for example, includes things like having a red ink coloured tampon stuck to her coat. Not necessarily something you want to be discussing with primary aged children in a school setting.
I also had issues with plot inconsistencies. Amongst other things, I was very confused as to Libby’s age. In some areas she is like a pre teen, and in others she is remarkably teenaged and she veers between the two throughout. I found it hard to reconcile her teen persona with someone who would be totally accepting of the whole magical world of the Odd Bods Academy.
I also wondered, given the level of abuse she is clearly suffering at school, and how public it is, why there is no teacher intervention at all, and why her mother seems to have had a complete personality change. There are lots of plot holes which could be filled by judicious use of back story and a few well chosen explanatory paragraphs, but which, when lacking, really make the story weak.
Then there is a sub plot involving a valuable black diamond necklace, which suddenly gets shoe horned into the plot quite late on in the book, and which distracts from the main issue, which to me, should be about Libby’s journey of self discovery. It seems that the necklace plot has been bolted on to ensure that there will be a sequel to the first book, rather than as a wholly integrated plot line.
The strongest sections of the book involve Libby’s journey to Odd Bods and what happens at the academy to build her sense of self. I thought these were much more coherent and well thought out, and there should have been more of this, and more focus on the positive aspects of her journey.
I really wanted to like this, and I think, with a fantastic editor and some very disciplined narrative focus, this could make a great story for teenage girls.
In the meantime if you are looking for a strong novel about teen bullying I highly recommend Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli and Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.