by Angie McCullagh
Available as: Kindle edition
Publication date: January 27, 2012
Suggested tags: young adult, realistic fiction
"At six feet tall, Emily Lucas towers over the "normals" in her Seattle high school. When she discovers, thanks to a pediatric endocrinologist and his X-ray machine, that she’s still growing and will likely hit six foot three, she struggles with her inability to blend.
Emily blames her MIA, giantess mother, Marilyn, for her excessive height and embarks on a mom-quest to find her. She wants to unravel why Marilyn left and learn how to operate as a super-sized person in the world. So begins a journey that leads Emily to Arizona to meet her birth mother.
Then there's Emily's ex-best-friend-gone-wild, Trix. She has an attitude that won’t quit, two non-parents who don’t take care of her as much as she takes care of them, and a tendency to hook up with too many guys in her search for acceptance.
When she finds out she has a chance to graduate early and study her passion–fashion design–at The Art Institute, she realizes she needs to pull herself out of her downward spiral and focus on her goal. Can she get it together and earn herself a better life or is she too far gone?
Emily and Trix, who have grown apart but whose lives still wind around each other like helices, work separately to figure out how to fit into a world that doesn't much like girls who can't, or won't, conform to what's ordinary."
Spectacle was a poignant flashback to my high school days. McCullagh perfectly captures the drama of it all, the constant struggles with friends and family, the feeling that life will never be more important than it is right now, the desire to sort yourself out and discover who you are in four short years.
I was more of an Emily. I always did my homework, I had one innocent romance at a time, and although I was pretty "normal," I was constantly fending off feelings of insecurity. I think the environment in high school makes everyone feel insecure, no matter your circumstances. McCullagh brings this up when, through her characters, she touches on why the mean girls, the Farkettes, are mean: these beautiful, popular, want-for-nothing girls? They're insecure too.
I had a harder time identifying with Trix. She gets stuck in an endless cycle of act-regret-repeat, and she makes one choice after another that just keeps leading her back into situations she doesn't truly want to be in. There were quite a few times where I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and tell her, "You are allowed to say no. You don't have 'own' anything." She finally makes a crucial move, though, which puts her on the path she's been searching for. And after so many things have gone wrong for her, things finally start to go right. (SPOILER - highlight to read: When she opens up that sewing machine on Christmas, I just about had tears in my eyes. I felt like, "YES. This is it. Trix will be ok.")
I expected Emily's actual journey (the physical traveling) to find her real mother to take up more of the book; her desire to find her mother and her investigations into where she might be are definitely a big part of Emily's story, but the actual trip to find her is started and finished rather quickly. It is handled beautifully, though. (SPOILER - highlight to read: In a tragically beautiful sort of way. Poor Emily has been devoting so much of her life to thinking of her mother, missing her mother, wanting her mother, and when she meets her, her welcome is anything but warm. Emily is generous in describing her time at her mother's to her stepmother Melissa when she calls it "mostly ok," saying simply, "Well, I mean, things never turn out how you fantasize they will." Although not at all what she expected, her visit to her mother is a major turning point for Emily - her rocky relationship with Melissa transforms almost immediately, which is something I was hoping to see.)
This book was a little difficult for me to read, and I think it was because it evokes all the uneasy feelings you have in high school so clearly. There is a sense of tension and confusion throughout the book, of things coming so close to going right, but then flipping at the last moment and going so wrong. The postscript was the perfect ending for it all. Reading it, I felt just like I did leaving high school: it didn't go exactly how I thought it would, but things are looking up from here.
Recommended for older YA readers, or those who would not be influenced by underage characters drinking, smoking, using drugs, or having sex.
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Coming tomorrow: Q&A with the author of Spectacle, Angie McCullagh!