This was a very pleasant surprise — I got this randomly based on a TikTok recommendation, and had no real expectations going in. I thought the plot sounded interesting and I tend to like older YA from the 70s, so figured I’d give it a shot. It turned out to be quite good and I really enjoyed it.
Marly is a sophomore in high school whose mother is awful and verbally abusive to her. Her sister already left home and is in Colorado trying to become an actress, so it’s just Marly trying to put up with her mom being constantly mean to her. Finally, in the opening of the book, she decides to run away and goes to live with her father and stepmother instead. The rest of the book follows Marly as she learns about herself, finds her inner strength and insists on being respected.
Marly is a wonderful character — very blunt and not willing to be condescended to or insulted anymore. I also liked that her relationship with her father and stepmother is positive and supportive. The plot of the book surprised me in that the stereotypical YA tropes weren’t really used, so I wasn’t sure what was going to happen a lot of the time. Her stepmother is nice, no students bully her for her looks, etc. I also liked that although Marly describes herself as fat, short, and plain, and the writer calls her “dumpy,” she has no desire to diet and she isn’t mean to herself about her weight. She mainly accepts that part of herself, and she just wants others to do the same.
The cover shows a drawing of someone who doesn’t look anything like the description of Marly, and that really irritated me. With the book having a nice message of accepting your body and not dieting, it felt like a bit of a slap in the face that the publisher felt like they needed to have some lanky tall person on the cover. It was like they thought I wouldn’t want to read about her if I knew she wasn’t skinny. That bothered me a lot. I also didn’t like that adult characters in the book kept playing down how Marly’s mother had treated her and pushing her to reconnect. I didn’t think that was a great message, and that any mother who tells her child to “rot in hell” and is constantly telling her she’s ugly should probably not be reunited with her. It was like they were saying it wasn’t abusive even though it clearly was, and Marly kept clearly stating her mother was bad to her and that she didn’t want to ever talk to her again. So that redemptive arc didn’t work for me.
Overall, this was a good coming of age story and I think I’m going to try another book by Susan Lee Pfeffer!
Warnings: verbal child abuse by the mother, teen falling in love with a teacher and telling him (but she’s turned down), sexist and cruel teacher