Amy Goldman Koss’s The Girls

Posted: August 17, 2008 in alternating narratives, Amy Goldman Koss, children's and young adult literature, Rashomon

Koss, Amy Goldman.  The Girls.  2002.  New York: Scholastic, 2002.

The five girls are a clique, built around the most popular and demanding girl, Candace.  The others always do as they believe she wants–but since she always cleverly manages to suggest what she wants rather than actually saying it, and because the girls are all so fearful of her that they work desperately to figure out exactly what her wishes are and make that happen, the results are never her fault.  The five girls tell in turn what they experienced in the past tense (there’s no clear sense of an audience, just the stories being told as stories but to no particular hearer), and as they do so,  readers get to know that their apparent community is rife with endless tensions.  Without admitting it to the others, each of the other four is fearful of the queen bee, Candace, and each thinks she is alone in her fear and confusion.  Readers, then, privy to all their separate thoughts and feelings, know more about the actual dynamics of the group than anyone in it does–another version of the soap opera dynamic, where the issue is, will they realize what we know before it is too late.  They do, of course, eventually figure it out, as readers, in the role Tana Modleski identifies as the soap opera viewer-mom who empathizes but is unable to actually interfere and say what she knows, are invited to cheer them all on.

It’s instructive that this doesn’t actually seem to work as I’ve come to expect multiple (more than three or four, say) alternating narrators.  It isn’t the most obvious version of that kind of story, where a bunch of separate individuals either come together into a community (Paul Fleischman’s Seedfolk, perhaps, or Judith Clark’s One Whole and Perfect Day), or alternately, a bunch of separate individuals are, unbeknownst to each other, already in a community and affecting each other’ lives (Fleischman’s Seek).  Instead, it’s about people who believe they are a community, but each is unaware of the individual tensions of others that pull against the enforced togetherness (although aware of her own).  In other words, it’s the opposite problem–not that individual are actually a community but don’t know it or haven’t achieved it yet, but instead, a community is actually separate individuals but don’t know it or haven’t achieved it yet.  The obvious result should be that the individual come to their senses and the community falls apart–and in a sense that does happen here.  But not quite: as the girls in turn to choose to act on their feelings, they actually form a new community–one built around reconnecting with the girl whose forced exclusion was the device that began the plot, but more a community of equals–and the former leader is excluded (or simply dropped because they knew she’ll drop them, but hey, let’s look on the bright side)–although as the ending makes clear, with a new admirer and all ready to start the same old behaviour but with a different bunch of girls.

Indeed, what’s most enterprising here is just that–that this nasty girl doesn’t actually change.  Even more more interesting, she doesn’t seem to be equipped with the self-awareness to change.  The passages presenting her thoughts are most noteworthy because she never even seems conscious of the nasty tricks she’s in the process of perpetrating.  She either completely takes them for granted and so they aren’t worthy of thought, or else she’s not even herself conscious of them.  The best she can do is think of these girls as hangers-on she has to deal with and manage, with a great deal of impatience (she is, then, a confident egoist; the others are equally self-centred but far less assured about how to go about getting what they want.  Indeed, as with so much recent YA, egocentricity seems to be a given–and that leads to intriguing manipulations around the idea of community: how d basically self-centred people form communities.  Here, the girls have to think about others just long enough to get what they really want, which is the comfort of a group that doesn’t challenge your right to be self-centred).

In any case, this book is a really fascinating case of a sort of Rashomon syndrome–this girls’ version of the events of the story is totally different from the others, because she understands herself in a way quite different from the way shared by all the other girls–and not just because her characters has a different set of obsessions that shape her views of herself and others, but because she truly sees the world, and herself acting in it, in a totally different way.   At one point, she even says of her family, “Why did no one ever see what I saw, or feel what I did?  didn’t they get it?” (34).  What matters hugely to the others doesn’t even seem to enter her mind.  What Koss manages to do most cleverly, I think, is to distinguish this girl’s self-centredness from that of all the others–make her a villain and the others sympathetic characters.  And I think it happens mainly because she has no obvious insecurity, no apparent awareness of why it’s wrong to take advantage of those weaker than yourself, and no guilt.  she is finally a kind of sociopath–as perhaps the others would be, too, if they weren’t so insecure about everything.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s