Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

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Girl Against Universe Paula Stokes

YA contemporary is usually not my thing; I do read it, but I'm definitely more of a YA sci-fi/fantasy girl. Also, as a licensed social worker and mental health advocate, I tend to be extra harsh when reviewing books that deal with issues of mental health, mental illness, and therapy. So when I started this book, I was a little hesitant - but by the end, I was asking, "wait, that's it?! I want more!!"

Maguire believes the universe is out to get her. After a string of bad luck and disasters - one of which killed her father, uncle, and brother in a car accident - Maguire has developed a plan to keep herself - and those around her - safe. Basically, she avoids the world by keeping to herself and adopting a series of paranoid rituals for situations she can't avoid, like school. Maguire's biggest fear revolves around being in any vehicle with anyone but herself.

So when her grandmother in Ireland invites Maguire and her mom across the ocean to a memorial service to honor her deceased father, Maguire realizes she can't keep living this way and makes a plan to take the trip. With the help of her therapist, Maguire makes a list of seven "therapy goals" that will bring her out of her shell and closer to achieving her goal of traveling to Ireland for the service. First goal: make the tennis team. But when she befriends Jordy, the sweet and charismatic tennis player who sees the same therapist as Maguire, she realizes that maybe it's time to stop pushing people away.

There was so much to love about this story. First of all, I loved the positive portrayal of psychotherapy and therapy goals. Dan was a great - and realistic - therapist. As someone who saw a therapist for most of my teen years, I wish I'd had this book back then. Nothing vexes me more than seeing therapists portrayed as caricatures. Maguire's mental illnesses - which are never officially diagnosed in the text but show clear symptoms of PTSD and OCD - were portrayed realistically and without stigmatization.

I also loved Jordy and Maguire's slow-burn romance and how they helped each other achieve their therapy goals. I tend to approach books about mental illness with caution when they feature a prominent romance; not that characters with mental illnesses shouldn't get a romance arc and a love interest, but rather that I'm tired of seeing romance and a cute boy being depicted as the magical cure for a female character's mental illness. In GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE, Jordy is definitely supportive of Maguire's therapy and does everything he can to help, but his presence doesn't *cure* her mental illness. Going off of that, I liked that aspect of Maguire's portrayal; while she definitely develops throughout the book, works through her trauma, and learns how to better manage her symptoms, she isn't *magically all better* by the end of the story - another trope I'm sick of seeing.

GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE also features a great stepdad; I loved seeing Maguire's relationship with her stepdad develop throughout the book. There were also some great girl-girl friendships. I could really relate to Maguire's anxiety and enjoyed watching her develop as a character; when she chose to ride the roller coaster again, my heart was pounding right alongside hers.

This was a great read that I highly recommend! 

5.0 / 5.0