ARC Book Review: Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

Posted May 5, 2016 by Debby in Book Reviews

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

ARC Book Review: Girl Against the Universe by Paula StokesGirl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes
Published by HarperTeen on May 17th, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Mental Health
Pages: 382
Format: ARC
Source: Author

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.

5 Stars

Dear Paula Stokes,

How dare you write a book as flawless as this. We both know I was incredibly enchanted by The Art of Lainey and, as a devourer of fluff, there was a big chance that I would fall in love with this book too. But, okay, even I did not expect the level of delight and adoration that Girl Against the Universe brought to me. This book is literally the total package, and then to have my name in the acknowledgements… I repeat. How. Dare.

Reasons why Girl Against the Universe is basically perfect:

1. The depiction of anxiety.
When I first heard about this book, I thought it sounded right up my alley, but that the mental health part would kind of straddle a quirky Disney-like magical realism line with the whole fact that Maguire believes that she’s cursed. I was wrong. This book takes a heartbreakingly realistic look at anxiety. With all of the past events in Maguire’s life, sure, she believes she’s cursed. But through her narrations and her vivid voice you can tell how that belief is firmly grounded in reality and how hard it is to let go of. And the “side effects” manifest themselves in such realistic ways that I was just filled with empathy the entire time. I hated putting this book down and being parted with it.

Maguire’s “bad luck” makes her fear being around other people. She develops compulsive habits of always checking her surroundings to make sure there are no hazards or potential dangers. She forces isolation onto herself with the hope that then nothing bad will happen. And the story actually brilliantly dissects psychological theories that explain her behavior, since Maguire is actually in a Psychology class, and that teaches her a lot about herself. Paula, woah. Seriously, woah. I feel like I learned so much about mental health, for one, and just about human nature in general too. I think if you have ever dealt with anxiety, this is easily the kind of book that will make you feel like your whole life has been justified.

2. The excellent therapy-positive “recovery”.
Like many readers, I think, I have been kind of put off stories dealing with trauma or mental health elements because the recovery part often feels so cheap. Therapy is commonly brushed off, if it’s even mentioned at all as an option, and more times than I’d care to take note of a love interest swoops in and “his love” fixes everything. This was totally not that book. Girl Against the Universe actually shows real therapy sessions with real step-by-step progress towards recovery. And yeah, it’s a slow battle, and there are some setbacks, but that makes it totally realistic and even more meaningful. It made my connection to Maguire that much stronger. The character development was top notch, and you know characters are like my #1 thing.

Of course, there is a romantic element to the story (which is OMGSQUEE — no Debby, control yourself, you’re getting to that), but it doesn’t at all dominate. Jordy is absolutely wonderful, and sure, him being there for Maguire helps her recovery, but she does the heavy lifting, and it’s not all over and done with the moment he bats his pretty eyes at her.

3. Jordy. Wheeler.
Oh man, Paula. You unleashed Jordy Wheeler onto the world, but I don’t know if the world is quite ready for Jordy Wheeler. How can I even… Jordy is patient, understanding, and kind. Those are traits you wouldn’t normally expect from a popular, well-off tennis star who basically has 10 million reasons why he could understandably be the most arrogant man on earth. Here’s a kind of shocking reality check: even the people you think have everything can have issues. Jordy is in therapy too, which is how he and Maguire meet. His issues are hardly on her level, but this is another reminder that mental health issues exist on all levels of severity, and everyone deserves help.

But boy did I swoon for this boy. There are so many yummy scenes. I mean, just the whole, “I’ll help you practice your serve, here let me put my arms around you to show it how it’s done” thing? Catnip for basically any hopeless romantic. That first kiss, during an adrenaline rush? I felt that adrenaline. Fooling around interrupted by parents? So many stomach flutterings. There may have been some truly unapologetically loud giggling on the bus. But what I love most of all is just how supportive Maguire and Jordy are for each other. Even though there was basically some level of attraction from the start, they built up a super heartfelt friendship first, which grew and grew until I yelled “NOW KISS!!!” at my book, and bless their little hearts, but they did listen ♥

4. This family gave me so many feels.
Character development and awesome romance would usually already be enough for me, but you outdid yourself by adding this awesome layer of family to the story. You’ll know, because I ran to tell you right away, that a certain scene with Maguire and her stepfather gave me ALL OF THE FEELS. But yeah, you did that. You actually took the time to make these really 3 dimensional parental units with their own worries, quirks, and funny personalities. This is not a family full of drama – this is a family that, despite drama, supports each other out of a pure sense of love. There were tears in my eyes. Yeah. There were.

5. Best friends forever.
To round out this list, I have to talk about the friendship, because this is also evidence of the tremendous character arc that Maguire undergoes. Yeah, she started off with basically no friends and so isolated and afraid of people that she hardly knew how to make friends again. But she meets Jade and Penn (who I’m secretly wishing are totally into each other because I didn’t make that chemistry up right?) and they are so understanding and awesome about everything. When Maguire actually talks about her issues and anxiety, they support her, don’t doubt her for a second, and take the time to patiently sit next to her and help her any way they can. And when Maguire’s feeling okay, they just have a ton of fun together.

Now I just feel like hugging this book to my chest and wishing that I had friends as awesome as this. I mean, I guess I do now – at least more so than in high school. But there were just such heartwarming moments that I wanted to yell at the sky with tears in my eyes and say, “See, world?! If you just are yourself, there are people who will accept you as is!!! No games or concessions, just heartfelt friendship!!”

Girl Against the Universe is awesome.
You are awesome.
This book made me feel all of the things.
Can I go again?


Recommended To:

Fans of The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord.

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