Do any other readers have trouble at the beginning of a book establishing the speaker’s gender? I always seem to immediately assume the speaker is a female — but Getting the Girl by Susan Juby is narrated by Sherman Mack, a ninth grader at Harewood Technical School. He’s just started High School, and as he lusts over a new friend Dini, his best friend Vanessa (and all the other girls at Harewood) are terrified of being Defiled.

No, we’re not talking about sexual molestation, we’re talking about social alienation. Every so often a girl’s picture shows up on the mirrors of the bathroom with a D for “defiled” written on it. Then the rumours start, and eventually everyone starts ignoring her — the Defiled become invisible.

When Dini starts going out with Lester (a popular lacrosse player, affectionately nicknamed “Lester the Molester”), Sherman takes it upon himself to protect her. When he ends up just making an utter fool of himself, Vanessa suggests that he investigate the Defilings and stop them. Sherman agrees thinking that if he uncovers the Defilers and save Dini from social alienation, he’ll win her affection. However, it gets much more complicated than that, and much more dangerous… can boys get Defiled?

The social commentary in this book is very strong. It shows how just a small rumour or embarrassing photo can get out of hand very quickly. I think that this is an important element to the book, and if a class was to study this, that it would be an interesting topic of conversation. As Sherman starts to interview people about Defiling and the D-listed, he learns more and more that nearly everyone hates the fact that it happens, yet no one has stopped it. What’s more, people let mob mentality take over — which Sherman discovers could be the worst part of it all.

Susan Juby captures the voice of a ninth grader very well. The language is spot-on for a 2008 publishing, however it certainly dates the book — in several years the teen language will have changed. I really like how Juby developed Sherman though; through first-person-narrative we’re privy to all his thoughts, and his hormones. Sherman is very honest, both in a heartfelt way, and an uncomfortable-teen way. All-in-all, I really enjoyed reading this book.

(Harper Collins) Published September 30, 2008

Susan Juby will be at The Word on the Street Vancouver this Sunday, September 28, 2008. She will be reading from Getting the Girl at 11:40am in the Canada Writes Tent. Visit the Word on the Street website for more information!

Full disclosure: I read a copy of the book that we received in the office. This situation did not affect my review in any way, shape or form.