I am kind of obsessed with Elana K. Arnold. I first read Infandous and was enamored with the creativity and depth of the characters. More importantly, though was how the story was told. I had a few readers at the time for it who loved it as much as I did and that added to its appeal. Then, I downloaded What Girls Are Made Of from Netgalley and realized that Arnold is a masterful storyteller. Both books are similar in delivery with essentially two stories woven together and focused on a notable relationship between a mother and daughter with a varied cast of secondary characters and situations to make them distinct.
I absolutely thought that fans of The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis or The Way I Used To Be by Amber Smith could connect with Arnold’s based on the intensity of the female main character. So without any more rambling, let’s introduce the memorable character.
Memorable character: I want to talk about Apollonia or Nina’s mom as catalysts for Nina’s obsessive behaviors, yet Nina is the driving force behind the book. It is her reaction to being in a relationship with Seth and then not being in a relationship with Seth that creates the conflict in the book. Readers shield their eyes, cringe, and cry for Nina especially when she is treated so worthlessly by Seth. And the words her mother speaks to her have the greatest impact on what drives Nina’s behavior.
Memorable quote: “There is no such thing as unconditional love. I can stop loving you at any time.” Yes, that is the nugget that Nina’s mother gives to Nina. I do not need to say anymore.
Memorable scene: Arnold’s portrayal of Nina’s journey creates a series of memorable scenes, along with the interspersed chapters featuring divine characters in tragic situations. Nina uses what she knows, what her mother tells her, and her experiences at a high-kill animal shelter to shape her thoughts and feelings on just what love is. But to me the most powerful scene is the story of how Nina’s mother and father met in Italy. When we talk about how children imitate, mimic, and create their own understanding of the world first through the experiences of their parents as their first teachers, this is an important connection to make.
Arnold’s book is haunting at every turn and painfully real. This is a necessary book, yet I can see some readers needing to put it down because it is too real. For some this will be a mirror, for others it will be a door and I am thankful to Arnold for creating these vivid portrayals of girls who are not just sugar and spice. If you haven’t read anything by Arnold, I advise you to add one or both of the titles mentioned to your pile and then share widely with your teen audience.