Me and Mr. J by Rachel McIntyre
Lara, an upbeat girl, is a social outcast at school. Her only friend has deserted her, the bullying is getting worse and between this and family drama, Lara fixates on Mr. J – the only beacon of hope in her life.
I read twenty pages of this and I honestly thought, Holly Smale’s Geek Girl. I loved Smale’s Harriet Manners, that her story was infused with humour and a roller-coaster adventure of self-discovery. But when Lara’s iPod gets smashed, that changes everything. She’s spat on, she suffers verbal and physical abuse and somehow, she manages to find a glimmer of hope. The story is a realistic one that a lot of bullied kids will relate to; a story that’s equal parts dark and light with laughs and love. I can’t fault the plot. The idea isn’t original but the execution is fantastic.
The narrative style is a diary format. It’s personal and the emotion flows of the pages and sucker punches you in the face. The intimate style makes the weight of the emotions and the emphatic connection (to Lara) makes it that much easier to laugh at the humour and persevere through the hideous bullying and all-round isolation both in her school and home life.
Lara is an incredibly likeable character who’s observations heightens the characters of those in her life. Take her Gran, for example. Lara makes her five a day and makes a follow-up quip about it being about her gin units rather than fruit and veg. Lara, herself, is fascinating. When Lara imagines her dream life with Emma, she paints an ideal picture but with some cracks – the windows rattle with the wind. It’s a further demonstration of Lara’s hopeful make-lemonade-with-lemons, make-the-best-o-what-you-have attitude. She dreams about a successful life in which she’ll repair her parent’s marriage and so on.
Here’s some of my favourite moments:
- “My internal monologue went like this: Firstly, I don’t have any friends, not even Chloe. And secondly, FYI, Mum, Molly is a ‘nice girl’ in the same way Hitler was a ‘real sweetie’.”
- “But then instead of staying quiet and walking off (sensible option), I carried on not alone digging my own grave, but picking the flowers, talking to the vicar and writing the eulogy (metaphorically speaking).”
- “Bet Molly hasn’t told him she gets mega-minging cold sores though. (Cue advert voice: Herpes – the Valentine’s gift he’ll keep forever.)
- “Molly whispering to a few of her fellow Slytherins.”
- “Seriously, it’s the equivalent of trying to put a bonfire out with petrol.”
- “Successfully disguising my own personal animosity, I pointed the fat bastard up the stairs.”
- “Where do they recruit bus drivers? Jobs4knobs.com?”
- “Mikaela is so dumb, her brain couldn’t find the right answer if you gave it a compass and a fifteen-minute head start.”
Quality of Writing: 20/20
Lara’s witticisms are sharp and funny. McIntyre’s dramatisation of detail constantly and consistently reflects Lara’s character (which few YA writers can manage):
“She was sitting behind a desk the size of Belgium.”
The story is set in Huddersfield. I’ve never been though it’s set up nicely. The detail is dramatized in the story. It’s easy to pick up the information and it’s reinforced subtly throughout with pound shop references and the like:
“This is Huddesfield, not Hollywood. You can’t wave a mascara wand and abracadabra, Lara’s the Prom Princess.”
Lara’s reference to the things she’ll be able to do when she turns sixteen firmly sets the story in the 2010s:
“And (according to the Gospel of Wikpedia) sell scrap metal. (Er, fab).”
Comparative Literature: 10/10
As I’ve already said, the story reminds me of Holly Smale’s Geek Girl. Smale’s character is arguably stronger, as much of a social outcast and we root for her because of the way she’s treated. The story is, as funny if not funnier but, and there is a huge BUT, McIntyre weaves a darker story that she lightens with moments of hope and laughter. Me and Mr. J matches the humour of Smale’s Geek Girl and the heart and hopefulness of Maya in Popular.
Overall Score: 100/100
Rate it or Slate it?
Rate it: A dark and sometimes difficult read, told by a character that demands your attention. A fantastic YA debut.
Books You May Also Like:
Geek Girl by Holly Smale – for another story of a social-misfit-turned-model with love and laughs along the way
Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen – for an honest, brave memoir delving into the meaning of popularity