Child & Adolescent Development: Overview

Review of "Odd Girl Out"

By Rachel Simmons
Harvest, 2002
Review by Liz Bass on May 14th 2002
Odd Girl Out

Ever wonder what white, middle-class, mid-grade girls are studying in school? In Odd Girl Out, we find out just what the real curriculum is for this sub-set of students. It’s each other. That’s right. They study each other. And what do they hope to learn? For starters, they hope to learn who is vulnerable and who is strong, because that is the information they use to determine who’s in and who’s out. In pre-Columbine days, the shifting alliances of the younger set might have only grazed the edge of our societal radar screen, but in post-Columbine terms, we have all become sadly aware of what kids do to each other in the name of social status.

Author Rachel Simmons wakes us up to the fact that aggression is not just a "boy thing." When she tells us how girls "aggress," Simmons leads us to dark places in a hidden culture where this activity thrives. In the hallways, lunchrooms, and playing fields of middle schools we see the wrecked lives of those cast aside by their peers. In one interview after another, we hear how it feels to be bullied. We hear the stories of the girls who were accepted and then unceremoniously dumped. We also hear from those who believed they had friends but discovered later they were nothing more than the butt of jokes. There are parents the mix too. Theirs is a special anguish, laced with dashed dreams and fears of bad mothering.

Who are the villains in the piece? Aside from the young bullies, there are a surprising number of references to teachers who "do nothing." One would think that these adults, acting in loco parentis, would be the first line of defense for the victims who suffer under their watchful eyes. But it is not so. Some of them say they don’t see or hear things untoward because they are too busy "covering the material." And since girl-aggression is often indirect and furtive, some teachers are not always convinced it even exists. The sin of non-cognition?

For Rachel Simmons, Odd Girl Out is a labor of love. A victim herself of a third grade bully, she recounts the events of her eighth year as if they happened yesterday. And her reaction is not far-fetched. Many of the people she interviewed carry the same baggage far into their adult lives. So invested is this author in this subject that she seems unwilling to let it go. She wants to keep adding things to it long after the sad revelations have lost their punch. Hence, the book is somewhat overwritten. But a reader with an ounce of soul will stay with it anyway because it is so obviously important to the author.

That said, I’m still glad that Simmons wrote this book. It is a monumental step toward solving a problem she points out early on when she says: "The day-to-day aggression that persists among girls, a dark underside of their social universe, remains to be charted and explored. We have no real language for it."

Thanks to Rachel Simmons, now we are beginning to learn one.

 

© 2002 Liz Bass

 

Liz Bass is a retired teacher and principal living in Northern California.

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