Review: Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Girl Against the Universe by Paula StokesGirl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes
Published by HarperTeen on May 17, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 382
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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four-half-stars

From the author of The Art of Lainey and Liars, Inc. comes a fresh, contemporary story about one girl’s tragic past and a boy who convinces her that maybe her luck is about to change. Perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen or Jenny Han.

Maguire knows she’s bad luck. No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch. But then on her way out of her therapist’s office, she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star, who wants to help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away, but staying away may be harder than she thought.

Jetlag has been doing some interesting things to me. For instance, on the day of this review’s writing, I woke up at 3am in the morning, having gone to sleep at 9pm. Since I was stupidly alert, I decided to read for a bit until I got tired enough to go back to sleep. My plan failed epically, due to my poor choice in novels. Girl Against the Universe is not the sort of book to put you back to sleep. Turns out, though, that you can get some really good reading done in the middle of the night.

Girl Against the Universe is by far my favorite of Paula Stokes’ novels thus far, which is saying something because I loved The Art of Lainey too and Liars, Inc was really good if less of a Christina book. Girl Against the Universe is a book of both my heart and my head. It’s a book that I needed on a mental level and adored on an emotional level. It made me smile like a goober and leak a few tears, which should really be enough to tell you how excellent it is.

Where The Art of Lainey was pretty much fluff served straight up, Girl Against the Universe is one of those books that manages to go down easy like fluff while also being about a lot of tough, real stuff. There’s a fair amount of sadness in Girl Against the Universe, a hard road to better mental health, but it doesn’t feel sad. I love books like this because I tend to struggle with the really dark, sad stuff. I feel the happiness and the sadness more when I can enjoy that juxtaposition.

Girl Against the Universe deals with mental health a lot, specifically Maguire’s anxiety and PTSD after a series of accidents throughout her life. As such, it was a really meaningful read for me personally. Though I thankfully did not go through the sort of things Maguire’s been through, I very much related to her thought processes. I learn a lot in watching Maguire close herself off, push people away, in an effort to feel safe and comfortable; I want her to open up and seek happiness, but I can recognize that I engage in those same unhealthy behaviors.

Throughout the novel, Maguire undergoes therapy ordered by her mom after the latest incident. Initially, Maguire isn’t into it, but, as she opens up and embraces therapy, her life really changes. The whole novel is about her emotional journey to better mental health, to being able to live a fairly normal life. As it’s a novel, her recovery sometimes goes a bit quicker than might be realistic, but I think the overall arc is perfect and inspiring. I love that Maguire encounters a lot of setbacks, the negative spirals anytime anything doesn’t go perfectly when she’s taking a risk. To be a good story, some things are a bit smoothed out and convenient, but I don’t mind that like I usually do, because I think it really feels right. I also really appreciate that, though Maguire’s issues are of a more obviously unhealthy nature, Stokes shows that what Jordy is going through is just as real and important.

Paula Stokes does characterization so incredibly well. There are family feels and friend feels and shippy feels. One sign of a great book is when there are smaller relationships that turn out to be surprisingly moving. I mean, yeah, when the main romance is great, that’s important. But the fact that one of the really moving scenes was Maguire interacting with the “mean girl” of the book, Kimber? I love that scene because it reminds you about how much we assume about others and because Stokes doesn’t fall back on typical tropes. I also adore every interaction that Maguire has with her step-dad, Tom. I do wish I could have had MORE of certain characters: Jade, Penn, and Kimber in particular. I’d also really like for Jade and Kimber to make out a lot; thanks to Debby (Snuggly Oranges) for pointing out that perfection.

There are a few scenes where Girl Against the Universe gets melodramatic. Like, if you laid out the plot, there are times where it might sound like an episode of One Tree Hill, but that’s really not how it actually comes off. Dramatic things do happen and Stokes handles them in a way that’s as minimally dramatic as possible. There are a few small secrets held for much of the book, and, when they come out, it’s not a big deal, whereas in some novels it would have been the big thing for the whole book. It’s not like that. View Spoiler »

Jordy and Maguire are such a great ship, and they’re not even hate to love. Jordy is like, massively, adorable. He’s such a sweet, goofy guy. Very much not the typical love interest type, which I love. He’s thoughtful and basically the nicest person ever. One thing, aside from the banter and chemistry, that I really love about them as a ship is that, though they’re obviously both understanding of the other’s mental health stuff, they do take missteps with one another. Sometimes, even though they know what the issues are, they handle something in completely the wrong way. They also just generally have to work through a lot of shit together, rather than being kept apart by external circumstances, which is how I like my ships.

Obviously I recommend this one MASSIVELY HIGHLY. I think you’ll love it if you’re into books like Jenn Bennett’s The Anatomical Shape of the Heart, Miranda Kenneally’s Breathe, Annie, Breathe or Emery Lord’s The Start of Me and You.

Favorite Quote:

I guess not, but please realize things aren’t as easy for me as they are for you.”

“Things aren’t easy for me either,” Jordy says. “I know my issues seem silly and weak compared to yours, but it was hard for me to stand up to my parents, to tell them I was going to make time for a life beyond tennis and studying.”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 gif you deserve to be happy

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