The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos
My Rating: 3.5/5 TARDISes
Date Published: February 1st, 2018
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Pages: 344 pages
Synopsis: Macy’s school officially classifies her as “disturbed,” but Macy isn’t interested in how others define her. She’s got more pressing problems: her mom can’t move off the couch, her dad’s in prison, her brother’s been kidnapped by Child Protective Services, and now her best friend isn’t speaking to her. Writing in a dictionary format, Macy explains the world in her own terms—complete with gritty characters and outrageous endeavors. With an honesty that’s both hilarious and fearsome, slowly Macy reveals why she acts out, why she can’t tell her incarcerated father that her mom’s cheating on him, and why her best friend needs protection . . . the kind of protection that involves Macy’s machete.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
I have so many feelings about this book—some that are conflicting—but let me start out by saying that this is a wonderfully diverse novel. It focuses on many topics that I personally have not seen much, particularly in the world of young adult fiction. I found it very hard to collect my thoughts both during and after reading this story because of the quantity of thought-provoking material that is present. While my overall opinions on and experience with this novel were somewhat mixed, that in no way means that I did not truly enjoy reading it.
In this novel, we follow a fifteen-year-old girl named Macy, who is chronicling her life through entries in her own personal dictionary. Macy has been classified as “disturbed” by everyone—including herself—but really, she is just a teenager trying to survive in a horrible situation. Her father’s in prison, her mother treats her terribly and is too busy having multiple affairs to think about the welfare of her children. Macy has little to no food to eat and only a couch to sleep on, and on top of everything, she has just lost her little brother to Child Protective Services. However, Macy is not going down without a fight, and she will do everything she can to prove that she can beat the odds, as well as protect the people she loves the most.
The plot was not at all what I had been expecting going into the novel. Personally, I thought this sounded as if it would be sort of a dark mystery/thriller type story. It is definitely on the dark side, given the nature of the subjects it addresses, but that’s about all that it has in common with what I predicted—it is more of a heartbreakingly realistic, fictional recounting of a person’s life and hardships. This came as a huge surprise, though a good one, as I thoroughly enjoyed the powerful and impactful story that I found within these pages. It took me quite a while to wrap my head around everything that occurred—in a good way.
My absolute favorite part of this novel are the characters—they are beautifully crafted. Whether lovable or despicable, there is absolutely no denying that each and every one is multi-dimensional and highly memorable. Macy is such a wonderful main character and narrator. Her personality is so distinctive and vibrant, and she is someone who is very easy to care about and root for—she is strong, badass, and just plain awesome. Also, out of all the other characters, George is the one that I adored the most.
Ramos uses a writing style that is both very unique and not commonly seen in literature. The uniqueness comes from Macy herself and her personal way of voicing her thoughts. She relates her story using very choppy sentences filled with grammatical errors. This fits her absolutely perfectly, and truly adds a great deal to the way Ramos depicts her. Macy’s views on life have a distinct peculiarity of their own, which also contributes to both the realism and charm of her character.
On a technical level, the style used is most like a stream-of-consciousness narrative, as we follow the events of Macy’s life as they happen. Since Macy is narrating through entries in her dictionary, she is essentially writing out her train of thought. There is a very diary-esque feel to it, and her internal monologue is all over the place, another factor I found added depth and relatability to her as a character.
I will acknowledge, the format in which this novel is presented—stream-of-consciousness coupled with grammatical inaccuracies—may not be the easiest to read. However, Ramos does a fantastic job with it, and the more you read, the better it flows. I thought this stylistic choice suited the novel extremely well—I loved it, and I cannot see any other type of narration relaying Macy’s story as perfectly as this does.
I’m still trying to collect all of my thoughts, partially due to the fact that some of the issues I had with the novel conflict with aspects that a loved. I believe that many of my complaints stem from the style of narration that is used. However, as I said before, that style was absolutely perfect and really brought Macy’s story to life in a way no other type of narrative could have. As you can imagine, this is causing me a lot of difficulty when it comes to reviewing the novel—but I will try my best to explain things as clearly as I can.
Let me preface this by saying that I have absolutely no personal experience with the types of trials and horrors that the characters in this novel have to face on a daily basis. And while I feel as though I learned a lot from reading this, I will never say that I can even begin to understand the pain of being in these situations. The fact that any person, especially a child, should have to deal with these struggles upsets me to no end, and I have the utmost respect for the strength and bravery people have even during the of darkest times.
There were a few times where I struggled to understand certain events in the narrative. Admittedly there were some occasions where it was extremely obvious that the problem was simply my lack of knowledge on certain topics and not at all the actual writing itself. But there were also a number of instances where I felt as though more detail needed to be used in order to clarify what had taken place. This could be explained by the narration style, since a person writing entries in a journalistic way is bound to be less descriptive. Nevertheless, there were times when I wasn’t able to explain what had just happened.
On the other hand, even when I felt unsure of what exactly was happening in a scene, Ramos did such a wonderful job of crafting her characters that it never fully detached me from the narrative. She conveys the emotions so clearly, I could always relate and comprehend on that level, thus allowing me to remain closely connected to everyone. So, while I wish I could have some clarity about those particular events, it was less of a detriment to the plot as a whole than it would have been in most situations.
I also understand that this narrative can be a bit hard to follow and therefore might be a slow read. That is due to both the stream-of-consciousness format—which can make everything feel jumbled and random—and the obvious grammatical errors in Macy’s writing. The main plotline can be a bit tough to find because, having that diary style, the plot is not going to be as linear. Personally, while I did read through this a bit slower that I normally might, I found all of these qualities to be incredibly fitting to the story and Macy’s voice.
One very minor detail—and by minor, I mean I’m just putting far too much thought into things like always—that confused me a bit was the timeline of the novel. It comes across as though Macy is writing each entry in alphabetical order as it happens, since we do follow somewhat of a connected storyline. However, she frequently references other entries in the dictionary, many of which haven’t happened yet. Like I said, this isn’t a huge issue by any means, it just made it a bit unclear to me how exactly events were progressing.
The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary is a book that I know is going to stick with me for quite a long time. It is an extremely eye-opening and powerful read that addresses many dark but incredibly important topics—ones that are hard to hear about but desperately need to be discussed. The realistic characters and vivid emotions really brought the events to life, and make this story an even more educational experience. I am so glad that I picked this up, and I very highly recommend giving this novel a read.