Title: Girl Against the Universe
Author: Paula Stokes
Publication Date: May 17, 2016
Genre: Young Adult – Contemporary, Romance, Sports
Format: Received Hardcover in May Uppercase Box
Maguire is 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 the roller coaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.
It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away may be harder than she thought.
This book was full of surprises in many good ways and I enjoyed every bit of it.
This story follows Maguire, a sixteen year old girl who’s life has been less than awesome since the deaths of her father, uncle, and brother five years prior. She blames herself constantly when bad things happen around her and she finds that it’s safer if she just stays home, under her blankets reading a book where she can’t hurt anyone.
That’s until her therapist, Dr. Daniel Leeds, gives her “shrink homework,” challenges for her to complete if she wants to take a trip out to Ireland with her mom to meet her father’s family for a memorial service. These challenges are to push Maguire into trying to regain her life back, to take back what the Universe took from her, so to speak, and so she reluctantly agrees to these challenges.
And that’s where she meets Jordy, a tennis player dealing with his own problems and also meeting Dr. Leeds to deal with those problems.
Maguire goes through an awesome transformation as this story progresses. She isn’t completely “cured” by the end, but she makes steps toward becoming better and reclaiming her life for herself, which makes everyone in her life proud – but especially her.
I thought that this book was so well done in terms of the mental illness of PTSD and OCD that was displayed because, as I’ve probably said before, not everyone’s mental illness is the same, even if it falls under the same name as someone else’s. Stokes did a good job of writing about how much Maguire’s illness affects her every day life: from five-second checks to make sure everything around her is safe and no one will get hurt, to the panic attacks she has at the beginning, to eventually becoming comfortable enough with friends around to do more than she ever would have thought possible.
Maguire is very cautious of her surroundings and also doesn’t reach out to others to talk about her issues in the beginning. As her relationships grow and she becomes more confident in herself (which is subtle, but still noticeable), she does talk about her issues more and the friends that she has are very supportive of her and never tear her down or tease her mercilessly because of them. I loved being able to see progress in her and that she wasn’t afraid to stick her ground when she knew she couldn’t go through with something and that she was also willing to try out more and more things with different people that she previously wouldn’t have opened up to because of it.
Jordy is a tennis athlete who’s eighteen years old and still has his parents running his life for him – and he hates it. He wants to take control of the reins and decide his future for himself, but he’s also afraid. He was charismatic and real a lot of the times when he wasn’t being Tennis Jordy. I liked him a lot and felt that he was just another teen dealing with his own issues and trying to break out of that and do things for himself instead of for others. I also liked that he didn’t force Maguire to do anything she didn’t want to and would go the extra mile to make sure she knew that he was being cautious.
The friendships in this book were also a delight to read about, even if they weren’t the main focus of the book. The friendships with Jade and Penn were both healthy and different, which was great to see not only in Maguire’s situation, but in a YA book. Even when I thought one character was going to be “the bad guy,” she ended up just having a misunderstanding and she became okay again in my book.
Maguire’s relationship with her mother even mended itself as a result of Maguire taking steps to get better. They didn’t have a bad relationship or anything, but they still grew closer and stronger together as a result. It was so uplifting to see a positive mother figure with a presence in the book. Even Tom, Maguire’s stepfather, gained some brownie points! It was so awesome to read about.
The romance in the book, too, was well done because Maguire and Jordy started off as friends and the feelings between them slowly started to blossom. Nothing was ever forced and both were very awkward about it at times, but I felt the connection they had. Even though there was uncertainty there because of Maguire’s feelings about herself being cursed, the two managed to communicate even when it was hard (sometimes with the help of friends).
Overall I highly enjoyed this book a lot more than I was expecting. Even the tennis scenes were interesting to me! I’ve never played tennis before, but it’s made me want to watch or try for fun. The dynamic in this book between all of the characters was a healthy one, and I couldn’t have asked for more in the regard.
I rated this book 5/5 stars and highly recommend it!