Author: Libby Heily
Genre: young-adult, contemporary
Pages: 250 (paperback edition)
Published: January 14 2013
Source: author for an honest review
Danger lurks everywhere in eleven year old Reggie's world—from the bully next door to the unwanted attentions of a creep at school. Raised by her mentally ill mother, Reggie is left to fend for herself. She escapes in daydreams, battling aliens with her alter ego, Tough Girl.
When Reggie's mother disappears, her fantasy life spirals out of control and starts to invade reality. She is hunted by a creature of her own design, and even Tough Girl is not strong enough to stop him.
Will Reggie survive long enough for her mother to return, or will her dream world take over?
This book contains adult themes and adult language.
All admissions forward: I was sent this book by the author, whom I consider a friend. This did not and does not affect my review.
It's been a real pleasure to watch Libby's growth as an author over the last two years. Having read and greatly enjoyed her short story collection back in 2011, I was anxious to see what she would come up with for her first her full-length novel. I can honestly say that I was not disappointed with the end result; Tough Girl is a clever, heart-wrenching novel with adult themes and ideas, but one that will hold appeal for a wide audience. If you enjoy honest, and occasionally harsh, views on struggles like mental illness, neglect and poverty, this is is your book. If you enjoy novels with strong and determined female protagonists, this is your book. If you enjoy unique fantasy and alternate worlds and places, this is your book.
This may get a bit spoilery, though I am going to try my best not to do. It's just hard to review a book with such a tricky plot without letting on about a few minor details. So: be warned.
Tough Girl is the story of Reggie, an eleven year old girl whom fate has not dealt the kindest of hands. From being bullied at school to neglected at home, Reggie's story is a sad, but not had to envision struggle every day. Thankfully for our heroine, Reggie is also smart, resourceful, resilient, and her own best friend. Escaping into various fantasy worlds with a tough-talking, militaristic alter-ego named Tough Girl, Reggie copes with her problems in a unique and compelling way. Like I said before, Reggie's mom, Mona, neglects her young daughter, leading to Reggie's disconnect from her real life in almost-slumlike building they live in, The Apartments. Reggie's story is a sobering one, and a lot of what she sees and goes through can be tough to read. Libby Heily is an author unafraid to examine the rougher side of life, and it's all to the benefit of the novel. For all its desperation, Reggie's story comes to life with ease.
Obviously in the grip of an unnamed and untreated mental illness, Mona forgets about her daughter for days on end, including the important task of feeding a growing girl. A lot of Reggie's narration and thoughts center around food - either getting it or eating it. I find it remarkably telling that even in Reggie's longest-running fantasy with TG, as she is called, is set on a planet named Girth. Bullied, hungry and alone, even in Reggie's dreams food is the most important part of her day. Her other struggles with classmates like Tara or even bratchild extraordinaire Jacob are painful and sadly quite real to life and carry additional weight to the storyline. There's a lot going on in Tough Girl, be it real or imaginary, and in the end, Heily manages to tie it all together with ease.
I did feel that the end was a bit abrupt. I would've like a little more time with the denoument - just to see it all play out visually. I liked the ending for what it was -it was fitting and believable, but just a very fast turnaround from the pacing of the first 240 pages. This is a shorter novel, but it still packs a punch. Another bonus is the price - it's only $2.99 to join Reggie and her alter-ego in the respective struggles. I was and still am very impressed with Libby Heily's imagination and am excited to see how she will grow and where she will go with her talent after this.