The Carnival at Bray was one of my top ten favorite reads of 2015 so when I heard that Jessie Ann Foley was finally releasing her second novel, I was excited to read it. Neighborhood Girls did not disappoint. Foley packs a lot of plot in this 360 page book and it’s all riveting from start to finish. Wendy Boychuck (named for the Wendy in Springsteen’s Born to Run - oh, how I love Bruce Springsteen!) had a very normal Midwest upbringing - house in the suburbs, hardworking mom and dad, Catholic school, older brother, best friend. She was comfortable, knew what to expect from life from day to day. She took her life for granted. No one was more shocked than she when a group of police officers (family friends) pulled up to her house to arrest her father - her police officer father - for his extreme mistreatment of suspects. He was tried, found guilty, and imprisoned out of state, and Wendy’s life would never be the same. Big brother escaped to the military so now it’s just Mom and Wendy forced to deal with the reality Dad left behind. Their suburb of Chicago is a small neighborhood where everyone knows about the corrupt Boychuck cop. Wendy feels forced to find a way to reinvent herself to make her bulletproof against the judgment of others - especially after she is attacked (her deep, dark secret). She drops her longtime BFF, Alexis, without a word of explanation and becomes one of Queen Mean Girl, Kenzie’s, posse. Together, they are the terror of the school. Wendy achieves the armor she so desperately desired but at what expense? When Kenzie finally crosses the line, Wendy is forced to consider going back to being herself, which will mean defying Kenzie. Again, at what cost? Helping Wendy make her decision is her faith in Our Lady of Lourdes, her budding friendship (maybe more than friendship) with Tino, and her strong sense of what’s right (even though she hasn’t used that sense much lately). Readers will be rooting for Wendy to do the right thing. The ending will leave readers equally happy and devastated but also with that hopeful feeling that makes me so passionate about YA lit.
Although this is definitely a mean girls story that features the daughter of a corrupt cop, at its heart, Neighborhood Girls is a coming-of-age story about a girl from a suburban neighborhood that can’t wait to get out and start her life all over again. Wendy could be any teenager with his/her own challenges. Every teen and every adult who remembers being a teen will relate to Wendy’s situation. They’ll also be able to relate to Wendy’s stupid decisions, which include (in addition to her decision to befriend the mean girls) a spontaneous tattoo and a venture into a blizzard to get a Dr. Pepper. I love the side characters Foley includes in her stories. In Neighborhood Girls, Wendy reunites with an aunt of whom her father always disapproved who helps guide Wendy and shows her some of life’s possibilities. Wendy also has a job at a Polish deli; those Polish mothering hens influence Wendy, too. I love that Foley gave Wendy a meaningful job (very Dessenesque). Another Dessenesque aspect to this book happens at the end of the book in the backyard of Wendy’s old house. Sigh. That scene was picture perfect. Although a very different read from The Carnival at Bray, Foley again proves she knows how to SHOW what it feels like to be a teen and write that experience beautifully. I’m already excited for her next book, expected publication 2018.
Check out this review from my faves over at Forever Young Adult. This review, specifically, is written by Jennie Kendrick and it’s a wow. http://foreveryoungadult.com/2017/10/16/neighborhood-girls/