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BookBrowse Reviews I'm the Girl by Courtney Summers

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I'm the Girl

by Courtney Summers

I'm the Girl by Courtney Summers X
I'm the Girl by Courtney Summers
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2022, 352 pages

    Paperback:
    Apr 16, 2024, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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Courtney Summers' I'm the Girl is sophisticated, intense YA fiction combining a queer love story with a murder mystery informed by the crimes of Jeffrey Epstein.

YA author Courtney Summers doesn't believe in shielding her teenage readers from the world's darkest realities. From addressing the allure of cults in The Project to tracing a seemingly doomed revenge quest in Sadie, Summers explores her subjects with brutal honesty. I'm the Girl is no exception, as it follows narrator Georgia Avis into a realm of power, secrecy and exploitation informed by the real-life crimes of Jeffrey Epstein.

Sixteen-year-old Georgia has always been told she's beautiful; she's viewed her beauty as one route to escape a dead-end future in her home town of Ketchum, Idaho. Ketchum, near ski country, is the location of an exclusive resort, Aspera, and Georgia has long aspired to be one of the "Aspera girls" hand-picked to interact with the wealthiest and most famous guests. Before her death from cancer, Georgia's mom—who used to work as a cleaner at Aspera—said that Georgia didn't have what it took to be an Aspera girl. But after cleaning out her older brother's savings in order to pay for a portfolio of provocative photos for a potential modeling career, Georgia needs to pay him back somehow. Despite, or perhaps because of, her mother's discouragement, about which Georgia's always been resentful, she decides to head to Aspera and ask its owners, Cleo and Matthew Hayes, for a job.

On the isolated road stretching to Aspera, Georgia's bike is hit by a car. When she comes to, she discovers that the modeling photos have been stolen from her bag. She also makes a more shocking discovery: In a nearby ditch lies the body of Ashley James, the 13-year-old daughter of Ketchum's deputy sheriff. After landing a boring administrative job at Aspera, a world away from the glamorous Aspera girls on the executive level, Georgia is enlisted by Ashley's older sister Nora to help investigate who raped and murdered Ashley. Nora is convinced there's a connection to Aspera. As the two girls try to find answers, an attraction between them grows.

I'm the Girl is a novel for mature teen readers; not only due to its explicit descriptions of sexual violence, among other troubling topics, but also because of its sophisticated storytelling and prose. At times, Summers employs almost savagely precise descriptions, but elsewhere, readers must fill in the gaps for themselves. In some ways, this storytelling style makes the novel's revelations that much more upsetting, as Summers allows readers' imaginations to veer toward ever-darker possibilities.

Throughout, the novel grapples with questions about the nature of power, especially for young women. Cleo Hayes contends that, even at places like Aspera that cater to rich and influential men, it's actually girls like Georgia who—thanks to the intoxicating effect of their physical beauty—can hold all the power. "When a man looks at you that way, you have him," Cleo tells Georgia. "There's nothing he can do to you or force you to do." That's especially true, Georgia thinks, given that as a lesbian she's unlikely to be drawn under the spell of any man, no matter how distinguished. But as the nature of Georgia's situation—and of Aspera itself—becomes clearer, readers will have plenty more to consider, including whether contemporary consumer culture markets beauty to young women as a source of power and, if so, at what cost. I'm the Girl is a YA novel that could and perhaps should also be read by adults, especially those who want a sobering glimpse of the pressures and dangerous contradictions that can govern the lives and futures of teenage girls.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl

This review first ran in the November 16, 2022 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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