[Book Review] American Girls by Alison Umminger


Title: American Girls
Author: Alison Umminger
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Favorite Quote: “We shouldn’t be afraid of ideas or words or things that challenged us—not on movies or in the news or school.” Can’t use any of the truly good writing, just wait till you find it.
Rating: 2 Stars

I took three pages worth of notes for this book, I have so much to say.

-Excellent writing
-Queerness present and accepted. YAY. Bicuriousity.
-Commentary on beauty in American culture.
-Racism discussed and we see white guilt
-Great writing and descriptions.
-Endless mental illness slurs and jokes about mental patients. Every page, if not every other page, to every few pages.
-Where were the betas and the marginalized editors for this thing? Damn.

Wow, did you ever think you’d see me being a black sheep? It’s that time of year again, friends.

Let’s start with my problems so we can end on a positive note. So, my first problem with American Girls was on page 2. The character was reading an article, but there seemed to be a separate thought with transphobia involved. I couldn’t tell if it was still part of her talking about the article and was deeply confused. I don’t see the relevance here to “shit-eating transsexuals” to the Manson girls or the rest of the book? Here’s the problematic sentence: “After that, he just knew that he wanted to go to America. Nasty, filthy America, where you could put a person on trial for being an asshole and supersize transsexuals ate dog shit off of lawns…” (American Girls, page 2).

That moment when she says on page 10 that her mother decided to be a lesbian? Really? The question I had was why? Why? Despite the dysfunctionality of the mother, why? Lastly, I couldn’t look past the excessive use of the word “crazy” in this novel. It was on almost every page and occasionally I felt blessed when the use was chilled for a handful of pages before starting up again. I feel like there was many places that this could have been edited, another word suggestion, how did the excessive usage of a slur not touch anyone who read this novel? It must have been through countless hands, countless computer screens, and no one said *anything*? It’s almost impossible to believe. I was getting annoyed by page 67 and the book is 287 pages long. But by page 213, it was outrageous when the main character made a joke about mental patients, this was when the excessive usage of crazy really got to me: “Thirty minutes I was cross-legged on Dex’s couch, watching bad TV and thinking how only a mental patient like my sister could find a way to like Roger more than this.” Again, why? Just. Why?

Why be so utterly persistent with the  daggers at neurodiverse people? I honestly felt hatred at that point. It is ridiculous that no one criticized any of this. Nooooooo onnnnneeeeeee. At that point, I was so livid, it was the first time I wanted to throw a book out the window, and if it wasn’t a new library book and had so many of my precious bookmarks in it, I probably would have.

Reading American Girls was like truly understanding the lack of empathy in publishing without marginalized people present, to the point where it was disgusting. No one is this clueless. I felt like the author had to be writing when any sense of empathy within her bones was taken out, thrown down fifty stories, and rolled over ten times before being flown back up and thrown around in a shoddy helicopter and then forced back into her cold, privileged bathed body against her will.

Let’s talk about the good parts, though, shall we? Why I would still want you to read this book. It was witty and thought provoking. Anna was smart and asked questions that made you really question how things were and how the society we live in is structured, ironic to the problematic elements in this novel, and was amazingly done. This book is like a love letter to LA, sibling relationships, and people with selfish, narcissistic mothers who impact their children poorly in their teen years. “That’s my mother, she punches you in the gut and then tells you she loves you. It’s almost worse than being a garden-variety psychopath, because on top of everything you walk around feeling like you can’t tell what’s true anymore.” It was honestly really beautiful in the moments where it showed how Anna’s emotional well-being was impacted.

Queerness was accepted and affirmed constantly which was awesome! And bicuriosity shown which was quite interesting, you don’t see much of that in YA. Race was also mentioned and shown as important in this novel, and the white characters were shown as pretty sensitive to people of color, which was amazing and a definite step to progress! This was definitely an imaginative, beautiful novel. So much that sharing too much of it would ruin it, and I would encourage you to read it with an open mind, but the problematic elements were so constant, it was truly impossible to ignore. There are characters and parts of this book that will always remain close to my wounded heart.


3 thoughts on “[Book Review] American Girls by Alison Umminger

  1. You are definitely not the black sheep! I gave it 2.5 stars and I know at least 3 other bloggers that DNFed it… My friend, Lillie, has heard not-so-good things about it and she has it for review so she really doesn’t want to start it. My biggest problem was that it was kind of conflict-less and well, pointless /:

    Jess @ POB!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, that’s interesting because I thought the conflict was this: She leaves Atlanta, then buys a bag, and is punished by having to earn the money back.
      To each their own! I never thought like that.
      I said black sheep because I read it because people who I trusted were raving about it. And despite my low rating, it is a good book, it just has a lot in it that is problematic and hurtful and that overshadows the good parts because I was so wounded that it made it harder to enjoy the good parts of the book, and there are many or at least a few and that made me sad or more upset.

      I don’t know who your friend is, but tell her I said that she really has to read it with an open mind. Despite what she’s been hearing, she might like it more than other people have. There are people with great taste in books who have loved it, and I see why, I just think there are a couple of glaring issues and it really negatively affected me. So, yeah, tell her to read it with an open mind and no, or if any, low expectations. She might hate it, but she might be surprised! It could go either way. Thanks for telling me you didn’t like it too. 🙂


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