So, I really like Alexandra Robbins, generally speaking. I have read other books by her - The Overachievers most notably - but I was drawn to this book because the premise was a noble one - to promote (at the very least) tolerance of the non-conformists in high school and, at the best, outright acceptance of the non-conformists. Her philosophy is also a noble one - to encourage acculturation and diversity and appreciation of those things instead of encouraging people to act like drones - thinking alike, dressing alike and talking alike. I think that a part of her also wants to stop the rampant bullying that exists everywhere from our schools to our workplaces. And I genuinely appreciate that - that message is an essential one to get out because that bullying sort of mentality exists even among adults in the workplace.
Her basic premise is also an easy one to understand and agree with - she essentially argues that the qualities that make people non conformists and outsiders in high school are the qualities that make those same people the most successful when they become adults, even if they are excluded in high school by their peers. The narrative follows seven outsiders during the course of one year: the popular girl, the new girl, the the band geek, the loner, the gamer, the nerd. It also includes a lesbian teacher. As someone who would classify herself as a nerdy jock, these categories fascinated me as did this book. I spent a lot of lunches in the cafeteria sitting with my friends as they played Magic (sophomore year), walking out to lunch (junior year) or talking about 90210 (7th grade), depending on what was going on. So I was really interested to see what she came up with.
The most touching parts of the book, for me, were the first person narratives of each of the main characters. I felt so particularly sad when I read about how Danielle joined a club in 7th grade, only to find out that it was the "I hate Danielle club," named as something else and, so, whenever she did anything in that club, not only was she stating that she hated herself, but her so called friends made fun of everything that she did. I also felt tremendously sad for the Gamer, Blue, who put his heart and soul into organizing tournaments for his gaming team only to be ousted by not only the other kids, but by the teacher who was acting as the teacher guidance counselor for the club.
The book, I thought, was well done in some regards and left some to be desired in other regards. I really enjoyed how Robbins made the science and sociological information very accessible for her readers. She broke down the research in a manner that anyone could understand. I also think that having first hand accounts of the experiences that the research discusses is a very effective way of demonstrating that the research is accurate to some extent (it also appeals to me on another level - I studied history in college and my most favorite class was an oral history class. I also think that primary sources are the best sources of information when it comes to history/sociological research). What was somewhat disconcerting, and somewhat dizzying, were the many jumps that Robbins took, often presenting us with many, many different experiences from the same character in the same chapter, but often split up over the course of the chapter. In one chapter, you could have stories told by one character, split up by stories told by other characters and the research segments, so it often got confusing and I often had to remember who was who and where they were in their experiences. It also seems like the information reported was reported second hand by Robbins. It's not like she was writing a transcript of a conversation that the interviewee recorded or that she recorded as she was observing the conversation unfold. The conversations and experiences were, it seems, reported to her by the subjects of the study, making me wonder about how much bias was also given to Robbins.
Altogether, though, this was a decent book that I was happy the tI read because it was easy to read, interesting (because I was one of the fringe to some extent) and served a pretty decent purpose.