What a perfect way to wrap up my year of reading Debutante Ball novels! I absolutely loved Stephanie’s debut novel They Could Have Named Her Anything and its unforgettable heroine Maria Rosario. No way can I top the eloquence of her recent LitHub piece about learning to write girls with agency, so I’ll shamelessly quote from it:
“Through a friendship that is ultimately destroyed, Maria’s life expands in ways she could have never imagined before, and by the end of the book, the shape of her adulthood begins to emerge, as if from below a thick fog that is finally lifting.”
They Could Have Named Her Anything is about a girl coming into her own power—and also about the limited types of power our society allows young women to wield, especially young women who don’t happen to be thin or white or wealthy. Reading it made me nostalgic for my own girlhood and also so glad I never have to relive the tumult of my teenage years again.
Though the story centers on Maria’s coming of age, there are POV chapters from several other characters too. I was particularly fascinated/horrified by the ones from the perspective of Charlie, the fortysomething father of Maria’s friend Rocky. Charlie calls Maria “Seventeen,” because that’s all she is to him: a living reminder of the youth he longs for but can never get back. His sections of the book were a sobering reminder that, while girls are trying their best to figure out who they are and what they’re capable of, grown men are projecting their own hopes and desires and fears onto those girls’ bodies, trying to turn them into symbols and vessels instead of people.
Maria is so much more than one sad middle-aged man’s fantasy, though. She’s endearing, exhilarating, frustrating, strong vulnerable, and above all real. I felt deeply protective of her as I was reading, but also certain she was going to be just fine in the end. Stephanie is one of those skillful, subtle authors who can render everyday life just as dramatic and compelling as an action-packed thriller because of all the seismic emotional shifts happening under the surface for her characters. I adored this book, and I can’t wait to see what she writes next!