(Original review posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/33280.html)Why I Read It:
When this book was released back in 2010 it received a lot of praise from bloggers I trust. While I'm at work, I like reading short books on my breaks (instead of whatever I'm actually reading at the time, for some odd reason) and with this book clocking in at just over 260 pages (with rather large font and smaller-ish pages) this seemed like a good fit.
If I had to sum up That Kind of Girl in as few words as possible, it would be this: Feminism 101. The novel focuses largely on Natalie Sterling, the straight-A student with high hopes of going to an ivy-league school. Natalie is strong-willed (to the point of stubbornness), opinionated, and high-strung. Natalie believes that women shouldn't have to resort to using their bodies in order to get what they want, and seems to largely believe that all men want from women is sex anyway. And this is where the Feminism 101 comes in; Natalie is one side of the Feminism coin: she is very much of the idea that women who bear their bodies to be ogled at are setting themselves up for objectification and need to gain control by drawing a firm line. But then Natalie reunites with Spencer, a girl three years her junior who she used to babysit who is the flip side of the coin. Spencer is a huge flirt, a tease and loves amping up her feminine appeal. But Spencer sees THAT as a form of control over the people who ogle her (as opposed to an insecurity or a weakness) and she enjoys it. The two philosophies collide on more than one occasion and is one of the central themes of the novel, especially when Natalie finds herself fooling around with the school's star quarterback Connor.
What was great about this aspect of the novel was that it never felt TOO preachy. Yes, Natalie could be extremely didactic in her explaining why Spencer's behaviour would only lead to harm, especially when she resorted to Autumn's story of woe to warn other girls, but this is clearly only NATALIE'S opinion, not Vivian's. The author is clearly not advocating either position, Natalie's uptightness vs. Spencer's care-free attitude, but rather seems to be suggesting to find some kind of harmony, and that it's okay to be comfortable with your sexuality, but there is a point when it needs to be reigned in a little. Vivian balances this whole aspect of the novel very well, with tact and realism.
Being a contemporary novel, it's unsurprisingly character-centric and Vivian has painted characters who feel very alive. Yeah, Natalie's up-tight and a control freak, but she ultimately comes off as likable, despite her very obvious flaws. Everything she does, she does because she wants the best for those she loves. So yeah, she forces her best friend Autumn to do SAT practice tests when Autumn would rather be out at parties and being a teenager while she can, but Natalie is only doing this because she wants Autumn to have the best chance of getting into a good school. It still makes you want to shake Natalie when she can't understand why Autumn is distancing herself from her, but it's still hard to wholly DISLIKE Natalie. Watching her growth over the course of the novel felt completely authentic too. She starts with very black-and-white ideas of what it means to be a Slut vs. Saint, but as her relationship with Connor progresses, as well as other shenanigans going on around her, she starts to realize that the line isn't quite as clear as she thought.
This is true for Spencer too. I thought she was a fun character right off the bat, though some of her actions made me roll my eyes a little bit. But she's clearly someone who has a pretty decent head on her shoulders, despite making some decisions that could have used better judgment, and an overall GOOD person. Just because she likes garnering male attention with her well-developed body doesn't make her a slut.
I wish the relationship between Natalie and Connor could have been more developed, but because the novel is written in a first-person POV, we never get to see his side of things, or how his feelings change. I still can't decide whether he was genuinely interested in Natalie at first, or if it was more of a progressive chance. Things felt real on Natalie's side of things, which was obviously good, but the end of the arc with her and Connor still felt slightly under-developed for some reason.Final Judgment:
This is a solid contemporary YA that felt super realistic and authentic. The characters were just like ordinary people without being boring, and Vivian tackled the subject matter of Slut vs. Saint with tact and never came off as preachy. The main character Natalie is a very flawed human being, but she's never unlikable and her growth over the course of the novel felt real and I liked watching her transformation. The romance felt a smidge under-developed, but it's still a breath of fresh air from the Insta-Luv trope that permeates the YA market. I highly recommend this to fans of contemporary YA, and feel like it's a good starting point for anyone wanting to jump into the genre, or for people who were burned by contemp YA before. I'll definitely be checking out more of Vivian's work.