Mara has it all together. (Lucky bitch.) Which basically means that it'll all fall apart for her in the course of this book. She has perfect grades, is neck-and-neck with her ex-boyfriend for the valedictorian spot, has been accepted to a summer program at Johns Hopkin, and will be attending Yale in the fall. Her senior year is shiny and perfect and super controlled.
Except of course, we have to have a conflict. Mara is the result of her menopausal mother letting her guard down on birth control. As a result, Mara has a much older (and much more rebellious) sister Aimee and a niece, V, that is just a year younger than Mara. When Aimee decides to follow yet another dude to Costa Rica, V gets dumped at the grandparents' house.
V is everything that her aunt isn't. Like fun. And promiscuous. And a frequent user of recreational drugs. And she doesn't give a shit about academics. And Mara cannot stand that her niece is so incredibly different.
As soon as V shows up in the house, everything starts going to shit for Mara. She is failing an interpretive dance class that she's dual enrolled with. V is developing a reputation around school as promiscuous and a "stonah babe." V was caught in the locker room shower with Mara's ex-boyfriend. And, oh yeah, Mara's parents are paying attention to V because the poor girl has never had a stable home life or parental figures that were genuinely interested in her well-being.
Mara's one bright spot in her life is her job at Common Grounds, a little coffee shop. It's really just a resume builder, but Mara might sorta-like it. There's her co-worker Claudia, who is madly in love with the boss man James. Because everything has to be super-perfect in Mara's life, James isn't. He's shorter than her and isn't picking up on Claudia's attempts at seducing him, and chose to start a coffee shop at a young age rather than attend college. Blasphemy. And lately, Mara has been having weird moments with James. Wonder what that could be.
While V is getting the lead role in the school play and going on a tour of college campuses and enrolling in an SAT class, Mara is realizing that everything in her life kinda sucks. Her solution? To accidentally make out with James. Which then leads to Mara skipping out on work for a week. Because that will make it less awkward. And hiding their budding relationship from Claudia. Because that will make her less pissed. Of course, this plan backfires. Claudia finds out about James' giving it to the help. (Not really. The word virgin is in the title, remember? Still. I just really wanted to say he was giving it to the help. Or that Mara had a new extra-curricular activity. Go with it.)
With James in her life, Mara starts being all kinds of assertive. She decides that there's no point in wasting her time in a lame interpretive dance class, so she drops it. And then she decides she wants to stay in town for the summer and be with James instead of rushing into school with a summer program at Johns Hopkin. So she drops that, too. And she decides to screw it and eat some damn cheese!
And shocker--Mara is happy. And she tells her parents about all the changes she's making! And they don't disown her! And they assure her that they don't care if she turns into her older sister Aimee! They love her no matter what! Aww. Hugs, y'all, hugs.
And V is becoming more of a Mara but her own version. She rocks out as the lead part of the school production of Damn Yankees. And people like her performance! And now she's planning on going to college. And her move to her grandparents is made official. Sweet.
- I've expressed how dang finicky I am about naming kids. My #1 naming pet peeve is alliteration. It's cool if you just happen to like a name that starts with the same letter as your last name. Fine. It happens. I draw the line when 1) you have 20 children with J names, 2) your kids all have the exact same initials, or 3) your name is Vivienne V. Valentine. It's too on purpose.
- Mara makes me feel like I undersold myself. I'm perfectly happy at a second tier state university. And Mara, who is going to Yale, couldn't remember things for her government test. Like which state had a controversy with presidential ballots in the 2000 election. Florida. And which case resulted in the desegregation of schools. Brown v. Board of Education. I won't say that I was a stellar AP Government student because, hey, I wasn't. But I still managed to retain those two rather well-known factoids that Mara gets wrong on her test.
- I love that Mara overreacts to V smoking. What I interpreted to be occasional recreational drug use, Mara is taking to mean that V will very soon be running a meth lab out of the upstairs bathroom.
- What. the. fuck. Pauline-who-is-Claudia's-overbearing-roommate. I get it. You're a psych major. Guess what! Me, too! And, I can two-up you with psych sub-specialty majors in neuroscience and child development. Which means I'm 66% more qualified than you to psychoanalyze Mara. But I won't. Because, surprise! A psych majors leaves you qualified to do NOTHING. And leaves you feeling prepared to do NOTHING. Not that I'm bitter or anything.
- Being a psych major does not give Pauline the right to rip Mara a new asshole for calling Claudia and asking, "Is Claudia there?" Obviously, someone else answered Claudia's phone. So while, yes, Claudia is conditioned to answer the phone when it rings, Mara was expecting Claudia and not Pauline to answer. Is it so unreasonable to ask to speak to the person whose phone you're calling?
- But, if I were to psychoanalyze Mara, I certainly wouldn't lead with Claudia being classically conditioned to answer the phone, just like Pavlov's dogs were to salivate at a bell. Because 1) that's psych 100, sweetheart. Maybe you should consider how Mara is dealing with identity confusion along with the chemical implications of her romance with James and the added storm and stress of her relationship with her parents and V and her transition from adolescent to emerging adult. I've written papers on considerably less interesting cases, but I won't bore y'all. And I already mentioned I'm a psych major, and I don't feel the need to mention it ten million times because my name isn't Pauline. 2)Claudia answering the phone or not was not the central issue here. Claudia's response to the phone ringing has nothing to do with Mara asserting her independence. Also, see my previous point. And 3)Pavlov used a METRONOME and not a bell. Learn your psych history.
- I love that Mara asserts herself without giving up everything she is about. I was really worried that she'd give up Yale and stay at SUNY. I can't even explain how relieved I am that she was still going to Yale.
- Mara likes to make a big deal about how many college credits her summer program at John Hopkins and her couple of classes at SUNY will give her.
- This bothers me. It's really not that spectacular that a high school kid is taking college classes. Something a huge number of people I graduated with did is being heralded as something extraordinary and astounding on Mara's part. While I understand that many people don't have the same opportunity to dual enroll, enough people do it to make it kind of ho-hum.
- Basically, Mara, I'm saying that you're just not that special. And that I apparently sold myself short.
- P.S. Mara--I came in with more credits than you. I'm still taking 4 years to graduate. That Johns Hopkin program probably wouldn't have knocked a year off your undergrad time.
- Why are Mara and James not more concerned about the fact that Mara is jail bait? If I was seventeen and started dating a twenty-four-year-old dude, shit would fly.
- It's such a weird relationship. James puts up with some crap from Mara that I would really think he would be too mature for and wouldn't want to have to deal with. Like that their relationship has to be top-secret. Or that Mara has to be home by eleven. Or that the one time James spent the night at Mara's house when her parents were out of town with V, the two "cuddled" in Mara's bed. Sure you did...
- How do you know that vegan Mara's life is about to fall apart? She craves cheese. She dreams about cheese. She wants some fuckin' cheese. If the girl can't control her eating habits, what can she control?
- Uh, Mara is a prime candidate for anorexia. Seriously. Overachiever. Need for control. Focuses on food a little too much. Feeling a lot of pressure from outside sources...