About the Book
- Jennifer Mathieu
- Historical Fiction
Talky Talk: S. E. Hinton, Savvy?
Bonus Factors: 1960s Houston, Ms. Norbury Award for Rad Teachers
Content Warning: This book features a scene of attempted rape.
Cover Story: Tuff Stuff
Normally I’m not a fan of Big Face on covers, but this girl can GET IT. From her cat eye sunglasses to her ice cold expression, she’s the epitome of cool, and while you could assume this is Evie, the protagonist of the book, I’m betting this gal represents an ideal, i.e. who Evie wishes she could be.
It’s 1964 in Houston, TX, and Evie Barnes is slowly suffocating under the pressure of her future. Though she’s only a sophomore, it’s clear that she’s expected to get married soon after graduation, just like her older sister, Cheryl. But Evie wants something more, something bigger, out of her life, and so she finds herself drawn to girls who really live: Connie, Sunny, and Juanita, a.k.a. “trouble” if you ask Evie’s mom and grandmother. These gals drink and smoke and don’t take shit from anyone, and even after Evie is accepted among them, she’s still in awe.
But her status as the sheltered baby of the group is torn away one fateful night by an attempted rape, which is stopped by the unlikeliest of allies: a rich girl from the right side of the tracks named Diane. In the aftermath, Evie and Diane begin to see that in spite of their differences, they’re trapped by the same societal restrictions, and the only way to break free is to be, not “good” or “bad,” but simply themselves.
BFF Charm: Make It Rain
She may not be as tough as the other girls, but Evie is a badass in her own way, because she dares to dream. Even though she’s afraid of disappointing her family, she’s brave enough to believe that her life can be her own, and I really enjoyed cheering her on while also wishing I had a time machine so I could get her the hell out of the misogynistic ’60s. In fact, I’d take the whole gang, because they are fierce and amazing and okay let’s be honest this might be the only way they would accept me since I’m not nearly cool enough to roll with them. Connie, the leader, is a total boss babe who has survived a terrible home life, and Juanita is an incredibly supportive friend and a proud Mexican American in spite of the rampant racism in Houston. Then there’s Diane, who took me a bit to warm up to because she’s kind of… a lot? But I soon discovered, along with Evie, that Diane is actually the strongest one in the bunch.
So, yeah, could we get, like, matching jackets or something, y’all?
Swoonworthy Scale: 3
Connie’s brother Johnny is a total MLD, a greaser with soulful eyes and a rap sheet. And while he’s the star of a tragic romance, Evie isn’t his Juliet. I’ll refrain from saying more because spoilers, but this aspect of the story felt a tad melodramatic to me. Then again, what is teenage love but ALL-CONSUMING DRAMA?
Talky Talk: S. E. Hinton, Savvy?
More on this below, but Bad Girls Never Say Die is a reimagining of The Outsiders, and Jennifer Mathieu utilizes the same time period, which comes with much of the same culture and slang. She also channels some of S.E. Hinton’s style, a choice I was slightly disappointed by after loving the voice of Moxie. Of course, Evie needs to feel like she belongs in 1964, and Mathieu certainly accomplishes that, but I missed the wit and dynamic personality of her previous novel. Fortunately there is still an abundance of feminism, with stirring lines like this:
“No, it seems like if you want to really love and feel and breathe in this city, you’re labeled as trash. Or bad. Especially if you’re a girl.”
Mathieu also deftly explores Evie’s feelings of shame as the victim of sexual assault and the fallacy, still lingering today but especially rampant back then, that she might have been “asking for it.” And on that note alone, schools miiiiight want to consider swapping out The Outsiders for this book—I mean, no offense to S. E., but the times, they are a-changin’!
Bonus Factor: 1960s Houston
When it comes to the “historical” side of this historical fiction, it’s clear that Jennifer Mathieu did her research, and the result is a colorful portrait of Houston in the midst of social change. I lived in Houston for eleven years, so I adored reading about old haunts like Winkler’s Drive-In; iconic businesses like Foley’s; and neighborhoods that have endured like ritzy River Oaks. But even if you don’t share my love of H-town, I suspect you’ll still feel submerged in the time period, made tumultuous by recent integration and raucous by rock ‘n’ roll.
Bonus Factor: Ms. Norbury Award for Rad Teachers
Evie has an “honestly swell” English teacher named Miss Odeen, who introduces her class to revolutionary figures like Jerrie Mock, the first woman to fly around the world, and Fannie Lou Harmer, a Black civil rights activist. By exposing Evie to these role models, Miss Odeen is blowing her future wide open with possibility, and it’s a wonderful reminder of how inspiring (and vital!) teachers can be.
Relationship Status: Stay Gold
Book, I think you’re pretty cool—I mean, tuff—and I totally dig your girl power, not to mention your historical vibes. Even though you weren’t exactly what I was expecting, I’m glad we met, and if those Socs come around, don’t worry, I got your back.
I mean, yeah, if you haven’t read Moxie, and you like your feminism served up Riot Grrrl style, get on that!
Experience the 1960s from a Black (and magical) point of view with Kara Lee Corthron’s Daughters of Jubilation.
Join a badass squad full of sporty spice with We Are the Wildcats by Siobhan Vivian.
FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free review e-copy of this book from Macmillan Children’s. I received neither money nor cocktails in exchange for this review. Bad Girls Never Say Die is available now.