If nothing else, the Chengs know how to save face. So to everyone else, Syrah Cheng's life looks like a dream come true. Her father is a billionaire, her mother is beautiful and always buying her fancy clothes (and custom-designed snowboarding gear). Between that and the mansion and private jet, it really seems like Syrah has it all. But . . .
The worst part of having it all is having to deal with it all--the good, the bad, and the just plain weird.
Syrah knows better than most that appearances can be deceiving. She almost never sees her parents, her half-siblings hate her, and it turns out real friends are not that easy to find when you can buy everything else. What Syrah doesn't know is how to change any of that, especially when she's been deceiving herself for so long.
Girl Overboard (2007) is Justina Chen Headley's second novel (following Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies) from 2006). The writing here is snappy and really moves the text along, so much so that the story very quickly demanded my full attention to better catch the nuances of Syrah's narration. The writing here is also grittier than a lot of books I have read lately. Syrah's loneliness and depression are so tangible in the early stages of the book that, at times, reading it was painful.
After years of being a loner with a one-track mind for snowboarding, Syrah's snowboarding accident and resulting knee injury force her to look at her entire life in a new light. If one bad accident can leave Syrah terrified of her chilly home away from home, what else has Syrah misinterpreted? It turns out the answer is a lot.
This book deals with many themes in addition to snowboarding and overcoming a really scary injury (partly inspired by the author's own bogus wipeout). A first-generation American herself, Syrah's family still bears the scars of their past in China during the Cultural Revolution. The story also provides an interesting commentary on the cost of keeping up appearances and friendship. At its core though, Girl Overboard is about a girl who has found herself adrift and, while trying to get her own bearings, realizes she can help those around her at the same time.
In this novel Headley spends a lot of time in Syrah's head, partly because the book is narrated in the first person, but also because Syrah is a solitary creature--especially after her Accident. For this reason, Headley is really able to trace Syrah's growth as a character. At the beginning of the novel Syrah is lonely, sad, and desperate for a way out of her life. But as the story progresses, Syrah learns that before you can ask for help you have to think you deserve it. In fact, you have to think you deserve it all because if you don't who will?
In short, what I love about Girl Overboard is Syrah Cheng is not just an awesome, strong girl but because this book details how she became that girl.
Possible Pairings: King of the Screwups by K. L. Going, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Kiki Strike by Kirsten Miller, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede