Child & Adolescent Development: Overview

Review of "Big Mouth & Ugly Girl"

By Joyce Carol Oates
HarperTempest, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jun 15th 2002
Big Mouth & Ugly Girl

Joyce Carol Oates’ first novel for young adults is about two 16-year-olds in a New Jersey High School, in Rocky River, in the rich sprawling suburbs around New York City.  Matt Donaghy is a joker, and one day at lunch he jokes about blowing up the high school.  He is reported to the authorities, and he is taken out of class, arrested, and questioned by suspicious police.  He is soon exonerated, but he is shaken to the core by this experience.  He gives up the regular column and his job as editor at the school newspaper and resigns his position as class vice-president.  He becomes isolated and bitter once he realizes that his so-called friends were not ready to stand by him in his time of need. 

            Ursula Riggs was captain of the basketball team, but she lost an important game for them, and in disgust at herself, she resigns and becomes even more of a loner.  She calls herself “Ugly Girl” and writes about herself in the third person.  She was the only one who stood up for Matt when he was arrested, and this brings the two teens together, slowly but surely, as they exchange e-mails. 

            The story is full of social commentary about the life in the suburbs where the students worry about getting into Ivy League schools and there’s hysteria about possible school violence.  The chapters are written alternately by Matt and Ursula, and on the unabridged audiobook these are read by Chad Lowe and Hilary Swank, who do a fine job.  Oates conveys Matt’s sense of betrayal and his sense of desperation, and Ursula’s strength of character, as well as the evident pleasure of the two as they become friends and then more than friends.  There’s adventure here too, although it’s not particularly exciting.  Big Mouth & Ugly Girl compares well with most of the other books aimed at the young adult market, but it does not provide any striking insights into high school angst.  Maybe young adults should try reading adult books.

 

 

Link: Publisher’s web page for audiobook with Real Audio excerpt.

 

© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.

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