This week, Pages & Stages takes a look at local author Alexandra Diaz' book Of All the Stupid Things, a young adult drama with its figurative finger on the pulse of some very adult issues. First, though, a digression.---
Per a friend's recommendation, I watched, on Netflix over the weekend, the approximately average teen-dramedy/cultural-critique film Easy A, in which lead character Olive (Emma Stone) endures a social meltdown after a rumor circulates that she lost her virginity. The film takes a page from Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter—both loosely, in terms of its puritanical undertones; and literally, in that Olive is, through a remarkably circumstantial plot device, studying the book in class, and opts to wear her own scarlet letter A out of protest. The whole thing is rather contrived, but I mention it here for two reasons:
1. In case there was any doubt that gossip (and unjust public scrutiny of individuals' sexuality) is hurtful, Easy A wraps up the whole "mind your own damn business" message in a neat allegorical package replete with rhetorical bow.
2. In a drawn-out scene of religious soul searching and humiliation following Olive's gossipy social stigmatism, she asks a bookstore sales clerk where she can find a Bible, which the clerk informs her is not located in the religion section, but instead stocked in bestsellers, next to Stephanie Meyer's Twilight.
So what does all this have to do with Of All the Stupid Things? Diaz' (who, full disclaimer, is a recent acquaintance and friend) story hinges on a similar thesis about the effects of unsubstantiated gossip, and taps into the YA precepts of ululating high school drama and social awkwardness—but sans Meyer's sparklicious Mormon vampires, fortunately (or not, if that's your thing). Yet Stupid Things is dryly aware of its tenuous hand-in-the-childish-issues-cookie-jar hold on that line between the collective YA attitude and the deeper adult issues with which its characters occupy themselves.
The story begins with a rumor: So-and-so heard from whosits that somebody said whodunit saw Tara's boyfriend Brent having sex with male cheerleader Sanchez. The characterization scheme at the beginning of the book should be immediately recognizable to anyone who's ever had a YA reading phase. There's Tara, the athlete, who learns of the rumor from her friend Whitney Blaire, the angry rich girl, with Pinkie, the socially awkward tag-along, in tow. Moreover, the narrative jumps between these three characters' viewpoints, making for a sometimes-fragmented narrative that, as the story progresses, serves to cement the girls' relationship while everything else falls apart.
Things are all as they should be in Tara's world—until the rumor starts. But when new student Riley joins the school and attracts Tara's attention, deep-rooted emotions are stirred. Experiencing a deep, inexplicable draw to Riley, Tara begins to do what she wouldn't before: question her own sexuality. Soon, the rumor of Brent and Sanchez no longer really matter, and the characters' types are twisted and disturbed.
While, at times, suspending the constant reminder of YA-fiction conventions can be a bit jarring, the book spans that gap between teen and adult perspectives on sexual confusion, abandonment and loneliness, and the friendships that make reconciliation possible.