Told in alternating perspectives, Paper Girl by Cindy R. Wilson is more than its title. Zoe, the titular Paper Girl, and Jackson, a determined student who has become homeless before the opening, are two characters that have levels of engagement for the reader. Readers interested in books about severe social anxiety, agoraphobia, and homelessness re: teens may well find themselves enjoying this story.
Published: 4 December 2018
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Category: Young Adult/Contemporary/Mental Health
I haven’t left my house in over a year. My doctor says it’s social anxiety, but I know the only things that are safe are made of paper. My room is paper. My world is paper. Everything outside is fire. All it would take is one spark for me to burst into flames. So I stay inside. Where nothing can touch me.
Then my mom hires a tutor. Jackson. This boy I had a crush on before the world became too terrifying to live in. Jackson’s life is the complete opposite of mine, and I can tell he’s got secrets of his own. But he makes me feel things. Makes me want to try again. Makes me want to be brave. I can almost taste the outside world. But so many things could go wrong, and all it takes is one spark for everything I love to disappear…
Rating: 3 Stars
CW: scenes dealing with panic attacks
There are two main stories in Paper Girl: Zoe and her social anxiety/agoraphobia & Jackson, a homeless teen who is striving to keep his grades up and get into college despite a rough background. While the synopsis makes it seem like most of the book will be centered around Zoe and her plot, I thought that there was a good balance of Zoe narrated chapters, Jackson chapters, and online conversations between the two as they play chess (not knowing who the other is behind screen names).
Zoe’s situation, her social anxiety spiraling into full blown agoraphobia, had a somewhat strong story. From the event that caused her anxiety to become more intense to the point of staying in her parents’ penthouse apartment for over a year, to the relatively positive therapy rep…these scenes were pretty good, the therapy especially. As of the beginning of this book, Zoe’s on therapist #6. Finding one that will listen & help rather than patronizing can be difficult. Gina (#6) seemed like someone that was actually helping Zoe, as opposed to the previous therapist, Dr. Edwards, who pontificated rather than assisted.
Jackson’s story was a bit more interesting to me. It’s possible because I haven’t read that many, if any, books involving homeless teens whereas I have about teens with agoraphobia/social anxiety. It was intense, reading about the things that Jackson did to stay not only alive without relying on anyone, but about what he did to stay off the radar as a homeless kid. Being discovered would’ve been disastrous for his plans, necessitating moving his car constantly, sneaking in showers whenever and wherever possible, and figuring out how to get enough to eat without tipping someone off.
There were some amazing descriptions of visual elements that Zoe created. Her Milky Way paper art sounded spectacular. It made me wish that there were illustrations of it or even photographs of samples that someone had made based on the concept. Zoe’s use of origami/kirigami to cope with her anxiety was an interesting facet of her character. It broke my heart, her decision regarding her “paper room” at the end and I have to say, it was one that I couldn’t wholly understand/believe.
The pacing in the second half of the book was my biggest problem with the book and ultimately made me aggravated with the reading process. While the story was engaging enough and enjoyable for the first 50%, there was a point at which it felt like everything ground to a halt. It took so long for anything to actually happen that I got frustrated with the characters and especially the author. It felt like maybe she didn’t quite know how to end the book, resulting in a longer book than was necessary.
I’m not sure how to explain my feelings regarding Zoe’s family, either. While both her parents were present, there were times when I questioned it because it almost felt like her parents were, at least, getting her therapy and being understanding-ish of her condition, but also that they weren’t present other than physically. Her sister Mae reactions to Zoe’s anxiety & their parents’ dealing with it felt like it might be realistic, but she said a few things that felt particularly insensitive that amounted to “just get over it” or “stop being scared if you’re so unhappy”. It was a strange imbalance in Mae’s supportive/insensitive moments that had me wondering whether I liked and/or cared about her all that much.
I could see recommending this in general with the caveat that the second half can feel like slow pouring molasses, but also to fans of Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall (not a book I cared for, but the similarity in a teen girl dealing with anxiety/agoraphobia may appeal to some readers).
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.