February 16, 2006


A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl. By Tanya Lee Stone. Wendy Lamb Books. $14.95.

     Tanya Lee Stone’s debut novel is a very fast read that comes across like something girlfriends would write to each other about a really bad time in their lives.  It’s written in something between free verse and prose, all mixed up and unsure what it wants to be.  The three girls who tell the story are all mixed up and unsure what they want to be, too.  And just as the slightly odd style is never off-putting, so the morally and ethically skewed choices of the narrators never make us think less of them.  That’s quite an accomplishment.

     To be sure, this isn’t Stone’s first writing.  She has done numerous nonfiction and picture books for kids and, before she started writing, was a children’s-book editor for 13 years.  But A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, for ages 14 and up, is new territory for Stone, and she explores it adeptly.

     There are three interlinked stories here, of three high-school girls – Josie, Nicolette and Aviva – who all fall for the same guy.  He’s a typically thoughtless high-school jock, a senior and a typecast love-’em-and-leave-’em hottie with only one thing on his mind.  In fact, he is such a predictable, cardboard character that the book would fall flat if anyone else in it were so one-dimensional.  But the girls are not.  They are as different as can be, but all really seem to live and breathe, to have individualized personalities that respond to the guy in different ways – all of which, unfortunately, lead to heartache.

     Josie, a freshman who finds out she is one of “the freshmeat girls,” tells the first story.  She comes out of her experience with the guy who will always be known as T.L. with a stronger sense of herself and a determination to help other girls who are, have been or might be trapped by this boy.  Her vehicle for helping is a book: Judy Blume’s Forever, a tale of a girl’s first love affair and a work that middle-school girls frequently read.  Josie finds a copy with blank end pages in the school library, and writes a warning note in it: “I won’t stoop to his level and call him by name but his initials are T.L.”  Josie’s note’s intention is clear: “Forewarned is forearmed.  Forever.”

     This doesn’t help Nicolette, an older and more sexually experienced girl who thinks she can handle anything T.L. dishes out, but discovers that he can get through her hard shell to the softness underneath – and then take advantage of it and her.  Nor does it help Aviva, who is as innocent as Josie at first but who finds out more than she bargained for through her relationship with T.L.  Still, Josie and other girls at school (who make brief appearances) form a sisterhood of the hurt to help Nicolette and Aviva get through their troubles.  And the resulting notes in Forever – shown at the front and back of Stone’s book – indicate just how many girls T.L. has hurt and how determined they are to gain strength and show mutual support as a result.  It is through this sort of “girl power” that A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, according to Stone – a rather bleak view of high-school romance, but not an unrealistic one.  Nor is it unrealistic, unfortunately, that the girls create their self-help network only after so many of them have been victimized by the same superficially attractive sexual predator.

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