Grounding Quinn by Stephanie Campbell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
For those of us who prefer dysfunction to dystopia, relationships to spaceships, cupid's darts to bows and arrows, and real emotions to EMOTING, this is an awesome book. When we first meet MC Quinn, she's in the principal's office, sneakily blacking out her father's smarmy class photo smugface with a Sharpie. And Quinn spends most of the rest of the book trying to obliterate herself, as well. She's actually doing a pretty good job of it, too, what with the prescription drugs she steals from her wacked out mom, her "fake it till you make it" relationships with various frenemies and faux boyfriends, and sliding through school with the minimum possible effort (and results). But then this guy Ben shows up ...
Ben is a wonderful male YA character. He's open and vulnerable, without being a creampuff, thoughtful, creative and kind of innocent without being naive. Ok, he's not without his flaws, he's a bit dominated by his GCB mom, and he lets Quinn pull a lot of shit that maybe he should have called her on (I'll grant that I'm not exactly sure how, but still). Quinn is also an awesome character, possessed of a wry, sarcastic wit - she really knows her way around a smart-ass quip, that's for sure - but those of us equipped with internal dialog vision know that she's not without her softer side as well. The first half of the book is really fun, clever, funny, warm and even sweet. Thank goodness we've already fallen in love with Quinn's self-destructive little self by the time she steers the ride out of the Tunnel of Love into the House of Mystery, because it gets pretty darn dark in there. There's one moment in particular (trust me you'll know when you get there) where you want to reach in and shout, "Quinny, no, don't, you're already regretting this!" But alas, she didn't listen, to me, or even to her broken little heart.
The basic story is not unfamiliar to YA readers, especially the "I'm too effed-up for you to love me," theme. But in capable author Stephanie Campbell's hands, it's treated so cleverly, with such literary skill and depth, and with such warmth and compassion towards her characters, that it glows like a nightlight in a dark place. The kids in this book are like many of the kids I know in real life. They are so privileged in so many ways ("You don't know how good you've got it," Quinn's father screams, just when she's at her lowest), but still bereft, after so many nights of "working late," parental affairs and alcohol issues, that they are hollowed out inside. This is a look at how some of them, sometimes, find their way out, despite all that. Stephanie does a masterful job of portraying them, and their world, with humor, style, warmth and compassion for her character and the reader. There is catharsis here, although it's a night light, like I said, not an all consuming sunny glow. And that feels real, just like the rest of this extremely well-done and lovely book.
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