Book Review: “Hyacinth Girls” by Lauren Frankel

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As soon as I started reading this book, I knew it took place in Connecticut. It helped that I'd seen the author, Lauren Frankel, was from Connecticut. This book was not about my Connecticut, though: it was about the Connecticut where rich people are the majority. They have kids, but they don't bother teaching them the lessons they need, like how to be a decent human being. Kids are accessories, and if you're lucky your accessory will grow up to be rich, powerful or famous and you'll think, "I did a great job." /endrant

Thirteen year old Callie is accused of bullying at school, but Rebecca knows the gentle girl she's raised must be innocent. After Callie is exonerated, she begins to receive threatening notes from the girl who accused her, and as these notes become desperate, Rebecca feels compelled to intervene. As she tries to save this unbalanced girl, Rebecca remembers her own intense betrayals and best-friendships as a teenager, when her failure to understand those closest to her led to tragedy. She'll do anything to make this story end differently. But Rebecca doesn't understand what's happening or who is truly a victim, and now Callie is in terrible danger.

Rebecca is 13-year-old Callie's legal guardian. She was best friends with Callie's mother, as well as the cousin of Callie's father. Both Callie's parents died when she was very young: her mom was murdered and her dad committed suicide.

In the beginning, Callie is accused of bullying another student. She denies it and her friends back her up. Rebecca immediately believes her and defends her constantly to everyone she can. She trusts her. But as Rebecca puts on a billboard in the prologue, "Do you know your children?" The answer: you may think so, but don't be so sure.

Rebecca is a truly amazing caregiver. She tries so hard to raise someone who isn't even her own child from a young age. She didn't need to, but she's so loyal to her dead best friend that she will do anything to try to make things right. When she believes the girl who accused Callie of bullying is sending threatening messages, she goes through a lot to try and make things better. She can't, though; she doesn't know the whole story.

After nearly 200 pages from Rebecca's point of view, we get to hear Callie's side. It's a lot like the switch between narrators in Gone Girl – what you thought you knew from reading the first perspective is completely changed by the other. Callie is, in fact, a bully and bullied. High schoolers aren't known for their extreme friendship loyalty. Callie is being bullied just as bad (or arguably worse) than the girl she was accused of bullying. No one does anything. The teachers and staff don't see it or don't care; the other students participate in the bullying because they don't want to stand out from the crowd and become bullied themselves. As someone who was bullied in school, depressed and suicidal, I felt horribly empathetic for Callie. I actually cried as I read her point of view – it was heartbreaking. I also wanted to jump into the book and murder her bullies.

The worst part? As in real life, nothing seems to come of it. After a bunch of tragedy that I won't go into because I don't want to totally spoil the book, none of the bullies are even suspended. They get to continue their lives as horrible people while other people's lives have been ruined. Does it have anything to do with the fact that the bullies are rich while Callie only has a single guardian making decent-ish money and living in an apartment? Hmm, maybe. I like to think that we care enough about bullying to punish even the rich people who do it, but who am I kidding? We don't.

I loved this book, even though it made me incredibly sad at some points. It was very well-written and the characters were fleshed out quite well. Callie had particularly wonderful insights on the world, even as a child, but it didn't seem unbelievable for someone her age – she wasn't solving complex philosophical problems, but she was much more self-aware than those around her, including the adults. That's something I really connected with. I felt like I could have been Callie.

I think anyone interested in the subject of bullying should read this, as well as parents, teachers and anyone else who interacts with kids and teens. My husband teaches teenagers, so I really hope I can get him to read this. Everyone should understand what bullied people actually go through.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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Erica B

West Haven, Connecticut, United States •

Hello! I am a recent law graduate and soon-to-be lawyer interested in freelance writing work. I am particularly knowledgeable about law, entertainment and technology.

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