NoNieqa Ramos, The Disturbed Girls Dictionary, Walker Books Australia, 1 April 2018, 344pp., $24.99 (hbk), ISBN: 9781512439762
Macy Cashmere has it tough. Her Dad is in prison, her brother has been claimed by social services and her mother has no time for her as she entertains a constantly changing cast of ‘guests’ in her bedroom. Macy has been classified as emotionally disturbed at school and her best friend and role model Alma, who seems to be the only light in her life, is now no longer talking to her.
The Disturbed Girls Dictionary is not a light-hearted banter-fest like some young adult novels. It is gritty, disturbing and blunt. Within it resides issues such as violence towards women, child neglect, racial stereotyping, diversity, spectrum disorders and, if that wasn’t enough, it is also filled with sexual references, violence and drugs, among others things. In short, Macy’s story will make you squirm and it should; but what makes this book amazing it that her story will also make you laugh, cringe, hope, reflect but most of all feel outrage, because kids like Macy and Alma exist, and this book shares the awful realities they face.
Although this book is presented as a dictionary with a different word and meaning starting off each chapter, it reads like a novel. As Macy told her story, I grew to appreciate her as the complex, kind, funny, smart, mean teenager that she is. She sprung from the page larger than life, and immersed me in her grim, confusing and underprivileged world, and this whole-hearted insight is one of the reasons this book is so special.
The prose is wonderfully written, filled with rich vocabulary and surprising references to past and present literature. It is witty, poignant and unforgettable. I dare anyone not to feel something big while reading this book. It should also spark some interesting and deep conversations about diversity, privilege and choices, especially for readers who may not appreciate the vastly different realities some teenagers face. Although I feel that Ramos has managed to balance the harsh realities in this book with enough hope and goodness so the reader is not completely overwhelmed, some readers will find the issues in this book too confronting.
I highly recommend The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary to sophisticated, older readers aged 14 plus who are looking for a more gritty and explicit read.
Reviewed by Renee Mihulka