For Aggie Winchester, life in her small northern Minnesota town is fairly standard. She spends most of time cutting class with her goth-girl best friend Sylvia and avoiding the fact that her mom is the principal of her school. But things start to change when Sylvia announces that she’s pregnant, Aggie’s mom tells her she has cancer, and Aggie’s getting weird mixed-signals from her ex-boyfriend. When both Sylvia and Aggie’s mom get embroiled in a scandal involving ballot burning during the prom queen election, Aggie’s investigation uncovers more questions than answers.
Although Zielin’s novel about a lost, surly outsider struggles to balance the teen melodrama with it solid, important content, there’s still a lot to like. Aggie herself is a nicely-developed protagonist and narrator, and Zielin raises some tough questions that don’t have easy answers. Unafraid to tackle darker issues, Zielin’s coming-of-age novel will resonate especially for readers looking for like-minded disaffected youth.
To her credit, Zielin writes teens especially well. She gets them, understands their motivations, and doesn’t make it easy for them or the reader. Aggie screws up a lot and Zielin lets her without interfering. Aggie’s lessons are all learned through experience. She’s not always lovable, but she does always feel authentic, real, and honest.
Unfortunately, Zielin doesn’t give the same care or consideration to her other characters. While Aggie’s relationship with her parents is fairly well-developed (and completely aggravating in that way that’s so common for sixteen-year-old girls), her friendship with Sylvia and the entrance of new-bad-girl Beth never really gel. Beth (and to a lesser extent, Sylvia) is completely irredeemable and one-dimensional. There is no depth here, and there is never even an attempt to explain or justify her nastiness.
While the overall story moves quickly and the central dilemma is interesting, Zielin loses focus near the end. Aggie’s relationships with her mother and Sylvia seem to get lost as the story’s events veer off into overwrought, melodramatic territory. Most readers won’t have a problem with this (some won’t even notice), but sophisticated readers might find themselves frustrated with the lack of follow-through.
Recommended to fans of contemporary YA featuring persnickety heroines.
The Implosion of Aggie Winchester by Lara Zielin. Putnam Juvenile: 2011. Library copy.