Girl Parts by John M. Cusick

girl-partsCindy: I’ve always been a fan of Candlewick Press. I love the beauty and attention they put into their bookmaking with special and expensive production attention to details. I admire their cadre of authors like M. T. Anderson and Adam Rapp and Sonya Hartnett and many other favorites that write unique and challenging books. Even so, when Girl Parts (Candlewick, 2010) landed on my doorstep, I doubted them. Look at this sexist cover! What are they thinking? Fear not, gentle readers. I brought the advanced reader copy to our teen book club last summer and said similar things and one of our just graduated seniors said, “It sounds like a mail order bride for this generation.” I replied, “You win. You get to read it first and let me know if I should bother.” She returned at the next meeting with a glowing report about this modern look at relationship, intimacy, and how gender factors into that. This is a girl who usually reads books like A Wreath for Emmett Till, Lester’s Day of Tears, and other serious books. She is not a chick-lit reader. So I added this to my reading list and finally got to it on Brilliance Audio’s production. I started it and then gave the first few discs to my husband to listen to. I learned it has adult appeal, too, when he called me from the road, upset that he was left hanging since I hadn’t given him ALL of the discs. Here’s the set up for those of you who are waiting for me to tell you about the BOOK!:

David is one of hundreds of teens who watches a girl commit suicide online and does nothing to help or to try to stop her. The adults are concerned that their kids are dulled to reality through overexposure to technology…so what do David’s parents do? They order a programmable female Companion bot who will teach David about intimacy and human interaction and ease his dissociative behavior. She is gorgeous and David is happy with his gift until he tries to kiss her and is rebuffed. Her intimacy clock has strict limits and he cannot have the kiss until they have known each other for a month. He can hold her hand. He decides to be patient and wait for her but when he gets the kiss and tries to go further, he learns that she is like a “Barbie Doll” and has no “girl parts.” He dumps her as “useless” and she ends up with a broken heart and begins a platonic friendship with Charlie, a kid who is afraid to be with real girls. They begin a symbiotic relationship helping each other to deal with the opposite sex. This is not a perfect novel, but Cusick is an author to watch, and this intriguing dating novel will have teens talking about relationships and intimacy in new ways. They might also think about whether or not our technology connects us or distances us from one another….Candlewick, I’m sorry I doubted you.

Lynn: I admit to leaping to the same unfounded conclusions that Cindy did.  You’d think I would have learned by now not to judge a book by its cover but judge I did.  I ended up really liking this for its very different approach to the old subject of gender and sexual objectivity but also for the spotlight on the distancing aspect of technology.  That really struck a chord with me as I noticed how often people sit elbow to elbow with others while being totally focused on their wondrous devices – connected but not connected.  Cusick does a terrific job of holding a mirror up to these aspects of modern society and making us uncomfortably aware of seeing ourselves reflected there.  He wraps the themes in lots of humor and clever word play and gives us characters we care about.  I really wanted to keep turning the pages.

The high schoolers in our book club are talking about this one a lot at our meetings but the really telling aspect is that they keep handing it off to each other with those golden words, “You’ve GOT to read this book!”  Mr. Cusick is definitely an author to watch.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

2 Comments on "Girl Parts by John M. Cusick"

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  1. angela.craft@gmail.com' Angela says:

    I was worried this was going to go creepy and sexist, too, so I was pleasantly surprised! This is one of the rare books I wish were longer – I think there is tons more Cusick could have mined to flesh out the book some more, but I’m still happy with the story we got. My favorite character (and probably the most progessive one in the book) is the hacker they meet (won’t say more for fear of spoilers).

    Also about the cover: clearly the art department was in contact with editorial when designing the cover, because the model looks exactly how the companion was described. I don’t recall her being shipped with packing peanuts, but it’s a slick cover that’s still true to the descriptions in the book.

  2. miacabana@hotmail.com' mia c says:

    Thank you so much for this review! I had actually passed on this title based on another review, but to have actual teen feedback is worth more than anything. I’m so glad I read your blog 🙂

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