The title gives it away: in the end, She Gets the Girl.
Pittsburgh City Paper’s June Book Club selection, a bouncy young adult romantic comedy set at the University of Pittsburgh, is about two teenage girls, Molly and Alex, who start off thinking they couldn’t be any more different from each other. Alex comes across as effortlessly cool and daring, but she worries she’s not good enough. Molly is plagued by social anxiety and feels permanently out of place. Both are fictionalized versions of the authors, Rachel Lippincott and Alyson Derrick, married writers who fell in love while attending Pitt.
To be fair, She Gets the Girl’s title is not as straightforward a spoiler as it might appear. In true rom-com form, both girls first pursue different paramours: Molly, her dream girl and high school crush, Cora Myers (who, Derrick says, is based on one of her real-life high school crushes); for Alex, it’s her kind-of girlfriend Natalie, the lead singer of a hip rock band who is quite manipulative.
In fact, Alex and Molly’s friendship begins when Alex catches Molly mooning over Cora, too scared to make a move. She offers to coach Molly on how to win her dream girl, hoping that if she can help Molly and Cora hook up, Natalie will trust that Alex hasn’t been cheating on her while her band tours the country.
Lippincott and Derrick are keyed into the frantic anxieties that can come with the transition from high school to college: a deep conviction that one must urgently change everything about oneself, fear of failure and of being known, and the misperception that everyone else has it all figured out. While Alex and Molly are plagued by typical teenage self-loathing, refreshingly, it has nothing to do with their sexuality.
The authors have composed thoughtful back stories for their romantic leads, whose family lives make a stark contrast. Molly’s family is middle-class and close-knit. Molly’s mom, who was born in Korea and adopted by white Americans, struggles with internalized racism that she pushes onto her kids (it’s implied that Molly’s father is white). Alex is the primary caregiver for her working-class mom, who is an alcoholic in active addiction. They’re both assumed white.
Although they write for a younger audience, Lippincott and Derrick are not afraid to touch on serious issues or put their characters in difficult situations, nor do they mock their characters’ fears and hang-ups. Instead, they offer a sweet coming-of-age story that champions patience, acceptance, compassion for oneself and others, and rollerskate dates.
July #CPBookClub selection:Unprotected by Billy Porter
Billy Porter went from Pittsburgh’s Hill District to becoming an Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Award-winning actor, singer, dancer, and writer. Read about his journey in Unprotected, a memoir described by publisher Abrams Press as “a resonant, inspirational story of trauma and healing, shot through with his singular voice,” relaying Porter’s struggles as a Black, gay man who became a powerful creative force.
Be sure to grab a copy of Unprotected at shop.riverstonebookstore.com and join the conversation during the July Pittsburgh City Paper Book Club.