Title: Girl Against the Universe
Author: Paula Stokes
Published in: 2016
Genres: realistic fiction, contemporary fiction, romance, mental illness
“Maguire is bad luck.
No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the roller coaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.
It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away may be harder than she thought.”
Maguire is convinced that she’s bad luck. Five years ago, she was the sole survivor of a car accident that killed her father, brother, and uncle. A year later, she was riding a roller coaster when it went off its tracks and everyone was hurt, but her, who walked away with only a few scratches. Then a year ago, her neighbor’s house burnt down after she accidentally left a candle burning when she went for a run. These as well as smaller incidents have led her to believe she’s cursed since the only thing in common all these unfortunate events have is her presence. So she hides in her room in an attempt to keep everyone safe. But then she meets Jordy, a young tennis star, and he’s sure he can help her. She thinks she should stay away in order to keep him safe. But as she spends more time with him and begins to fall in love for the first time, she realizes that may not be as easy as she thought.
I really sympathized with Maguire. Having developed PTSD and OCD after a series of unfortunate accidents, she was easy to relate to in her struggle with these disorders. Since the only thing in common all those accidents had had was her, she’s convinced that she is bad luck. And to try to keep others safe, she avoids them and instead hides out in her room. To me, in a way, I thought it was thoughtful and sweet of her since she was trying to be selfless and do what she thought was best for other people, even though she ended up pushing people away who wanted to care about her and as a result, hurting them in that way.
The first chapter of Girl Against the Universe begins in August with Maguire at her first therapy session with Dr. Leed. At this point, she isn’t willing to talk about anything and has the attitude that the only reason she’s there is because her mother is making her. She doesn’t think anyone will be able to help her because she convinced that the universe hates her. She changes her mind a few weeks later, though, when her grandmother invites her to Ireland for a memorial service for her father, uncle, and brother in December. She really wants to go, not only for her mother, but for herself as well. The problem is that she can’t even get in a car with anyone besides her mother, not even her stepfather. So there’s no way she’d be able to get on a plane for an international flight with a bunch of strangers.
In the therapy session that follows, she tells Dr. Leed about it and he has her come up with a list of therapy challenges. She’s not sure what those should be, so he starts by suggesting she try out for a sports team and she chooses tennis. As the weeks go by, she adds more challenges to the list. Some of these challenges include riding in a car with someone besides her mother, taking something back from the universe, facing a specific past fear, and letting go of control to someone else.
The first time Maguire meets Jordy is in Dr. Leed’s waiting room. At the time, she doesn’t know who he is. But she later finds out that he’s a tennis star on the first day of tennis tryouts. They soon start spending time with each other when he offers to help her with her serve. Though she enjoys hanging out with him, she thinks that she should really stay away to make sure nothing happens to him.
Despite Maguire’s attempts to keep a distance, Jordy tries hard to be her friend and then her boyfriend. He thinks he can help her with her anxiety. They begin to help each other complete their therapy challenges together.
Jordy is caring, supportive, and just wants the best for her. Not only is he caring of her, but he’s caring of everyone as well. In one scene, it’s made clear he cares about his sister when he forfeits a match to go to the hospital to be with her. And while much of his struggle throughout the book is to figure out who he is, who he wants to be, and stand up for himself, he obviously cares about his parents too which is his motivation behind his desire to always please them.
In addition to Jordy, Maguire makes a couple of other friends that fall. First there’s Jade, who she meets at the start of tennis tryouts. And then there’s Penn, Jordy’s sister, who’s also on the tennis team. Both are kind, caring, and supportive of her and her
Maguire’s mother and stepfather both love her and care for her as well. Both are each struggling with what happened in the past in their own ways too. Ever since then, her mother is terrified all the time for her family. Her stepfather has a hard time letting himself be happy. He got everything he wanted in life, but someone had to die for him to get it. Maguire’s mother is shown to be concerned about her from the beginning and opens up to her earlier in the book. But her stepfather, Tom, is shown to, as well. One night, at around two am, they both have a heart to heart talk with each other, in which they realize they both feel similar in some ways.
I really liked that Maguire had such a great support system throughout the book, with loving parents, supportive friends, and a caring boyfriend. I also liked how motivated to make progress and overcome her fears Maguire was. It was inspirational, though I’m not sure how realistic the amount of progress she made in about four months was. I appreciated that while it is a romance and Jordy helped her with her challenges, he didn’t “cure or “fix” her. I felt that the improvement she made was mainly due to her own motivation and her own efforts. I liked Maguire’s ultimate conclusion towards the end of the book as well. The conclusion was that she can’t control the universe and that sometimes things happen and it’s no one’s fault. That she can only control herself and can’t control the universe in that way either. Nor can her five second checks control anything. Finally, I liked that she said at the end that even though she’s come a long way, that doesn’t mean she’s all better now. There will still be good and bad times to come, but now she’s ready to face them. It made her struggle with PTSD and OCD seem more realistic.
The only thing I didn’t like was that I thought it spent too much time talking about tennis, especially the tryouts. I felt that these scenes made the book feel slow.
I had been hesitant at first to read Girl Against the Universe, but now I’m glad I did. Despite all the talk about sports, I enjoyed reading it and am interested to see what Paula Stokes writes next.
Rating: 4/5 Stars