Certain Strain of PeculiarTitle: A Certain Strain of Peculiar
Author: Gigi Amateau
ISBN: 9780763630096
Pages: 261 pages
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2009.

The boys sit right in front of me, wondering right out loud if there could ever be a girl more disgusting than me. My face turns violet, I’m sure of it, because I fear that my skin will not hold in all of the blood rising up into my head. I seal myself completely inside my hair canopy, so no sound can get in and no sound can get out. (3)

In this book by Gigi Amateau, Mary Harold Woods is just finishing eighth grade, and couldn’t be more miserable. So she essentially steals her mom’s old pick-up truck and credit card and drives the 691 miles in the middle of the night to her Grandma Ayma’s house. Once there, she convinces her mother to let her stay in Wren, Alabama, the one place her mother can’t stand to be. But things don’t start off the way she planned, being called queer when she makes friends with Dixie, who acts nonstop like she’s a horse. Can Mary Harold learn to deal with these new people in her life?

I didn’t really like this book. The ending seemed cliche, with everything falling into place very easily for her. The “surprise” was eluded to very early on in the story, and some readers (like myself) won’t be suprised at all when it is revealed. The passage of time doesn’t flow well, with the author leaving huge gaps in the storyline regarding Mary Harold’s new life. While the characters are amusing to read about, there’s no real interest in their lives.

With all the talk recently regarding Liar by Justine Larbalestier (which has since been remedied to some extent), I feel like I should comment on the confusion that the cover of the book caused me. While not related to race, it does show that cover photos can inaccurately portray other aspects of the main character. The narrator explicitly states that she and her “ex-best friend” Krystal “made a hair pact back in kindergarten. […] we vowed that as long as we were friends, we would never cut our hair.” (4) She’s now 13! That’s EIGHT YEARS. I would think that her hair would be much, much longer than the hair shown in the picture. You might argue that when she arrives at her grandmother’s house, she promptly cuts her hair, describing the event in detail. But that doesn’t work either, as you see here:

I cut the braid off at my shoulder, and it is still too long, so I cut to my chin and I give myself bangs, then I cut to my ears. I keep cutting until there’s only an inch or two of hair left all the way around my head. (97)

Her new hair cut, along with her bulging muscles, is what causes her problems at her new school. GRRRR!