Thursday, July 14, 2011

Review: Girl Parts

John M. Cusick
Candlewick Press
(SPOILER Note: I try very hard in reviews not to post anything that could be considered a spoiler. However, for this book there were elements I felt important to discuss that happen later in the book and could be considered spoilers by some, so read with caution.)

Rose isn't a real girl. She's a seriously life-like robot, specially calibrated as a "companion" for David, a teenage boy so disassociated from real life that his parents have decided a friendship with a Sakura Doll would be a good idea for him since it would help him become emotionally close to another person. Or in this case, a robot. The problem comes when David's more interested in a physical relationship than an emotional one and Rose finds herself separated from her Boy, saved by Charlie, an outsider who has some reservations about the whole "companion" thing. As much as the girl-is-a-robot idea is an awesome premise, the book's focus on the sexual aspect gives it a very, very weird vibe. And this is sad because underneath that this book - and Rose - has real heart as well as something to say.

David, the Boy that Rose is assigned to, is a hard character to like. He's callous, arrogant, spoiled, entitled, and gives us no reason to empathize with him or care about his situation. Rose though - she's programmed to love him. Even when he does things that frighten her or that she doesn't understand, he's still her main focus. Her everything. And when he's taken away from her, she finds herself lost and heartbroken, with no idea who or how to be without him. This, I think, is the real strength of Girl Parts. There's an exploration of love, heartbreak, companionship, and male-female roles that I absolutely loved. As Rose - with the help of loner-boy Charlie - tries to figure out who she is, who she has any possibility of being without David, she learns that she has interests and ideas outside of what David wanted her to think. She wonders how other girls - real ones - can "switch" boys and how she can ever get over the pain of loving and losing David. As much as David was an unlikable and unsympathetic character, the emotions that Rose exhibits are - regardless of the source - very real and very interesting to view through the scope of programming. Because it turns out a heartbroken Sakura Doll isn't very far off from a heartbroken human, as Rose learns.

I wish this, Rose's heartbreak and personal journey, had been the primary focus of the story, but it wasn't. To be honest I'm not even clear on whether Rose or David and Charlie were the main characters. Instead, there's a huge focus on sex; first with David and later with Rose when she seems to decide that lack of sex organs is what separates her from being not only the girl that David wants but also a "real" girl. The irony here is that Rose is the most realistically human character in the book and robot or not, I found it easy to relate to her. However certain decisions she makes in the last third of the book sent the story in an (even weirder) direction that had me wondering what the heck just happened? From there the book quickly unravels, ending with what doesn't even seem like an ending in that there really is no resolution. As a reader I was left confused and wanted another chapter to tie up the free-floating plot points.

There were elements of this book that I absolutely loved, but then there were elements I didn't understand, didn't like, or just could not get on board with. Unfortunately it's these less-than-stellar elements that make up the majority of the novel and will probably make it difficult for many readers to enjoy. If you're into sci-fi, give it a try, but don't be surprised if it doesn't work for you.

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