I was going to post another graphic novel review this week, but yesterday I picked up Girls Like Us by Gail Giles and I couldn’t put it down. It’s a short YA fiction novel, around 200 pages, but it deals with some important and heavy issues.
Biddy and Quincy graduated from their high school’s special education program. They learn slowly; Biddy can’t read and Quincy can’t write. But that doesn’t make them stupid. When they learn that their families can no longer care for them, they are placed in an apartment together as roommates. The apartment is above an elderly woman’s garage. Biddy’s job is to take care of the woman and to clean the house. Quincy cooks and works at the local grocery store. While the setup takes some adjusting, the two girls eventually form a bond with each other and with Ms. Elizabeth, the elderly woman they look after. Quickly, though, things take a turn. One of Quincy’s co-workers, Robert, gets fired for harassing Quincy at work. He starts waiting outside her job at night to threaten her. She doesn’t say a word about it, because she thinks no one would believe a “Speddie”. Meanwhile, Biddy is dealing with issues from her past that resurface whenever she sees a boy. With the guidance of Ms. Elizabeth, Biddy and Quincy overcome the darkest moments of their lives–together. They learn kindness, empathy, manners, and most importantly self-worth.
The novel is written in the alternating diaries of Biddy and Quincy. Each girl keeps a journal on tape, since neither of them can write very well. Their personalities are extremely different: Quincy is tough, suspicious of others, and doesn’t like to be touched. Biddy on the other hand is loving, gentle, and timid. They are both wards of the state, and that’s why they are housed together after high school. A special program allowed them to live with and take care of an elderly woman who can’t walk due to dizziness caused by a problem with her inner-ear.
It was interesting to experience things through the eyes of Biddy and Quincy. Quincy’s diaries especially highlight the discrimination people with a mental disability experience, even from those who mean well. She often gets frustrated because she can tell when people think she is stupid.
One of the ladies tell me and Ms. D. that I’m gonna be doin’ “prep” for now. She start explaining but I stop her talking by saying, “You want me chopping the onions and celery and measuring out the ingredients and such as that.”
The lady cut a look at Ms. D., then she say I was right. She hand me an apron and point to a chopping table. Ms. D. tap me on the shoulder and kind of nudge me into a little corner. “Quincy,” she say close to my ear. “Try to be friendlier to these women. Don’t interrupt when someone is giving you instructions.”
“That woman think I’m stupid,” I say.
Biddy senses people treat her differently, too, but is less quick to anger.
I look out my little window and I see Quincy and Miss Lizzy drinking ice tea and laughing. I get a sad feeling. I wonder if they’re talking about me. Laughing about dumb, fat Biddy.
The book was a lesson in empathy, but also in safety. These girls experience more than bullying about special education. Everyone can be subjected to violence, and we can learn a lesson about protecting ourselves and speaking up when we feel threatened. When Quincy finally tells Ms. Elizabeth about what’s happening with Robert, Elizabeth says:
“Quincy, you are a woman. You can make your own decisions –I’m not going to meddle and risk making things worse. I can’t force you to tell the police. But I think you should.”
Quincy then explains,
“Lisabeth, peoples like you count. Peoples like me, it’s just different.”
“One day, I hope, you’ll know that you’re wrong about that,” Lisabeth say.
It teaches us that if we feel threatened, we should tell someone, even if we think no one will care. If it’s happening to you, it could and probably is happening to someone else.
Gail Giles was a special education teacher for twenty years. She is the author of a few other books for young adults. She lives near Houston, TX. She has a blog.
Kirkus review 7/18/2014 so