Stephanie Jimenez’s astonishing debut novel follows the evolution of a friendship between Maria and Rocky, two seventeen-year-old students at a private girls’ school.
In order for this youthful friendship to take center stage, both characters need to be incredibly rich and real, and I was so impressed with how well Stephanie pulls this off. The two teenagers felt so real, to me, in fact, I found they reminded me of things I’d actually forgotten about being that young. How quick I could be to anger, for one. How easily arguments would spring up between me and my friends, and how equally quick we were to brush them behind us and move on. Was it only hormones? Was it slogging through school every day on too little sleep, sitting through classes we hated, aching to reach a better future that felt so far away, that made us so touchy and irritable? I no longer remember the cause, but this book absolutely made me remember how it felt.
Maria’s mood swings seemed like both a product of her age and her situation—she’s desperate to get to college, but her father wants her to take a job first in order to pay for it. And it fascinated me to watch Maria navigate the sexism and the racism of her world. Reading about her, I was reminded of what it feels like to stay in a relationship with someone who treats you badly, for reasons that won’t make any sense when you look back on them twenty years later. Maria’s desperation to be the first in her family to go to college, and what that desperation drives her to do, is a powerful driving force for this book.
I also loved how this story is told through multiple perspectives (the two girls and their fathers), particularly because it gives us a chance to see each girl through the eyes of her friend. Maria envies Rocky because of her wealth and the freedom this represents, while Rocky envies Maria her close-knit family and their love. Each girl seems to feel that this jealousy gives her license to take whatever she can from the other, and the result is a series of deceptions that continues to escalate until the book reaches its satisfying conclusion.