It was a hot summer’s day, I was on the London tube sweating and running for my train with an inconvenient suitcase dragging at my heels. I was one stop away from Kings Cross station and this book caught my eye. It had been left on the tube (not an unusual thing in London, people often leave newspapers, leaflets, and books for others to take and read), I picked up the book, gave the blurb a quick read, and decided to take it. As I do with most books before reading them I Googled reviews. This is Jean Kyoung Frazier’s first novel, the critics were raving about it, so it was time to sit down on the train and open it up.
The book is written from the perspective of our unnamed Korean-American protagonist. She is eighteen years old, works as a pizza delivery girl, has a loving mother and boyfriend (Billy), a dead dad, and seemingly no prospects for the future. Okay so she’s faced the difficulties of losing her father and being a teenager, but other than that a seemingly average character is described. That is, until we find out she is pregnant. But this is not that narrative climax, in fact we learn about this within the first couple of lines of the book. But her detachment and nonchalance from the reality of her circumstances slowly begins to unravel the depth and trouble of her psyche.
Through her characterisation and namelessness, Frazier captures the disillusionment of young girls and the difficulties they face from a very young age; having little to no friends, losing connection with one’s mother, and irrational body insecurities. She could be anyone and no one. As the novel progresses we get further insight into the strained relationships between the pizza girl, her mother, and Billy (all of whom live under the same roof in a cramped LA house). She is completely disconnected and disinterested in her pregnancy, contrasting the excitement and enthusiasm of her mother and Billy This becomes a very poignant and almost uncomfortable theme throughout the book – a soon to be mother who has no interest or care for her child, however this importantly highlights the immaturity of Pizza Girl. A girl, on the cusp of adulthood, yet still connected to the ties of her childhood, having to navigate herself through very real and adult circumstances.
When reading this book I really wanted to like, and feel connected to, Pizza Girl but I wasn’t. She made me angry; her constant drinking whilst pregnant and driving as well as her disrespect to the loving Billy, who as we find out has his own demons. She made me sad; her growing obsession with Jenny Hauser, a woman who orders a pizza with pickles every Wednesday. Her expression of her difficult relationship with her late father and fear of becoming him. Pizza Girl is not the coming of age bildungsroman you might expect. She is reckless, she lacks self awareness, and she spirals into obsession over Jenny. At moments I wanted to reach inside the pages and shake sense into Pizza Girl, she is so ignorant of the world. At times I wanted to give her a hug and hold her, she is so ignorant of the world. Her ignorance, her carelessness, her lack of self-confidence is the ultimate representation of girlhood and trying to find one’s place in the world.
At her 12 week scan her doctor remarks; ‘you’re a funny girl’. This slight remark was significant to me. A professional (male) doctor attending to a pregnant teenager, she is a girl not a woman. Pizza Girl’s girlhood stands in direct opposition to Jenny’s womanhood. Pizza Girl is infatuated with Jenny’s looks and her ponytail ‘was the longest I’d ever seen on a woman her age’. Jenny is a mother and wife. She is in every conventional sense a woman, and Pizza Girl very much a girl but the two share the common ground of motherhood. Fraziers portrayal of Jenny and Pizza Girl questions what makes a ‘good’ mother, and when a woman (or girl) should become a mother. It makes one look at one’s own mother and at oneself as a child. The relationship between the two is confusing, enraging, and inappropriate but it leads us on the road to the novel’s dark crescendo (which I am not going to spoil). Ultimately, one is left with no real answers, and in this way the novel mirrors the uncertainty and ambiguity of our own lives.
I want to congratulate Jean Kyoung Frazier on her debut novel, even if I did find it on a less than glamorous London tube, it made for a very frustrating yet enjoyable read which is testament to Frazier’s skill to write real and flawed characters.
Girl Museum Inc.