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“You can be yourself when you’re anonymous, but in real life you have to answer to who you really are. And sometimes, that’s the scariest thing of all,” Zoe. –Paper Girl
by Cindy R. Wilson
Zoe hasn’t left her family’s Denver penthouse in over a year. Doctors continually tell her that her anxiety will get better if she takes little steps, but she knows that she can’t do that. That would mean going outside into the real world, and the thought of that is too terrifying to contemplate. It is much better to stay inside where it is safe, in a world that she constructs out of paper. Nothing can hurt you inside. Nothing can scare you.
Everything changes when her mom decides to hire a tutor for Zoe. But it isn’t just any tutor. . . it’s Jackson, a friend of her older sister Mae. Jackson is the only person from the outside world that Zoe wishes she could see. He’s the boy that she has been thinking about non-stop for a year. How can she let him into her world?
Zoe’s world is flipped upside down as Jackson enters her life and makes her realize that the world outside her door might not be as scary as it seems. The story doesn’t just focus on Zoe, but also shares Jackson’s perspective. Jackson faces many difficulties as he deals with homelessness, an alcoholic father, and the struggle of raising money for college.
Zoe and Jackson don’t realize that they have been communicating while playing online chess together. For over a year, they have been sharing their problems with each other. Online is the only place that they feel free to share their struggle. Will the two ever be able to connect in person? Paper Girl is a captivating read that sheds light on the diverse struggles of adolescence.
Paper Girl discusses mental health at length, as the main character has debilitating anxiety that restricts her from leaving her home. She often meets with therapists and doctors in order to grapple with her illness. Through first-person narration, the audience is able to feel her struggles firsthand, giving a vivid picture of life with a mental illness. Jackson’s father is also depicted as a rampant alcoholic, and although the audience never directly sees him in this state, it is referenced frequently. The characters face realistic hardships, which at times will disturb readers. However, Zoe and Jackson’s story also highlights the importance of having compassion for others who are trying to navigate life. The story does not only focus on the character’s hardships but also adds in a satisfying romantic plot.
Paper Girl is a delightful and easy read, making it an enjoyable experience for the audience despite having some heavy subject matter. The depth and relatability of the characters draw readers in, inviting them to enter Zoe’s paper world. The small details of the characters’ interactions and the sweet romance create an endearing charm that keeps readers on the edge of their seats, eager to see what happens next.
Zoe’s family is an integral part of Zoe’s journey, and although they are not always understanding, they truly want what is best for her. Another positive aspect of this story is that therapy is portrayed in a positive light.
Zoe’s journey is powerful, as she and the audience learn how to battle inner demons to live a fulfilling life. Beautifully written, Paper Girl is a must-read that has relatable characters who struggle with anxiety and are afraid of being judged by others. Paper Girl will evoke emotions of frustration and sadness, as well as give readers a message of hope.
- Zoe’s parents kiss in a scene, making her feel mildly uncomfortable. “Dad kissed Mom on the lips long enough to make me cringe.”
- In Zoe’s fantasy world, she would “flirt with [Jackson] a little.”
- Zoe’s fear of seeing Jackson was, “the equivalent of the naked dream.”
- When Jackson’s elbow brushes Zoe’s, he thinks, “her skin was so smooth and warm and I wanted to touch it again.”
- When Zoe thinks about Jackson wanting to get to know her, it “makes my whole body buzz.”
- Mae teases Zoe about Jackson and says, “You think he’s hot and you want to kiss him?”
- Mae kissed her boyfriend, Robert, “all the time, and even though I made faces, she seemed to like it.”
- Zoe fantasizes about Jackson and thinks, “Jackson’s kisses were probably like his smiles. Overwhelming. Brilliant.”
- In another fantasy, Zoe imagines that she and Jackson would walk around Denver. “He’d kiss me, right in the middle of the sidewalk. He’d slide his hand down the hem of my shirt, where a sliver of bare skin was exposed and—”
- Gina, Zoe’s therapist, tells her a story of when she was in college and threw up on a guy’s shoes. “I offered to take him out that weekend, and though he didn’t want new shoes, he still went out with me. And we dated for a year.”
- There is a scene where Zoe and Jackson stand on a balcony staring out at the night sky. During the entire scene, Jackson has his arms around Zoe’s waist.
- Mae says that Zoe “has it soooo bad” for the comic book character Mr. Fantastic, and that he has “sexy glasses.”
- Mae casually asks Zoe if Jackson is a good kisser. When Zoe says that she has yet to kiss him, Mae recommends that she, “pull him over to Mercury and say something about gravity not working or something then kind of fall into him. . . with your lips.”
- Zoe and Jackson share their first kiss. “His found mine without hesitation. They were warm, like his hands, and softer than I expected. Gentle. My mouth parted, ready to say his name, but he took this as an invitation to step even closer, so his hand slid up my back and the other found my cheek with those same warm fingers.” Later, after trying again, Zoe says, “I was right, Jackson was a great kisser, and I never wanted him to stop.” They kiss several more times throughout the novel.
- After they kiss, Jackson’s “fingers slid up my spine, making my world tilt.”
- When Zoe tells Jackson that she wants to make a paper asteroid belt, he says, “Oh God, you make that sound sexy.”
- While they are making out, Jackson is surprised when Zoe, “shifted in my lap to straddle my legs.” After this, the elevator unexpectedly dings, surprising them, and they hastily get up to look normal. Jackson “yanked down the front hem of my shirt to cover the effect Zoe had on me.”
- Mae and her friends play a game when they watch horror movies, where they compete to see who comes closest to guessing the number of people who will die. Some of the movie is described. “She fired off another shot. The killer collapsed in a heap . . . In a last burst of unnatural and bloody vengeance, the Prom Night Slasher jumped on Alisha, using his bare hands to strangle her.”
- Zoe worries that Jackson’s dad, who is an alcoholic, had “gotten violent.”
- Zoe’s therapist, Gina, got jumped in college. “‘He had a knife. I tried to fight, but. . .’ She pushed aside her scarf to reveal a jagged scar that ran down her neck to her collarbone. ‘It almost killed me.’”
Drugs and Alcohol
- Jackson’s dad is referenced many times as being an alcoholic and a drug addict. Eventually, he goes to rehab and gets his life back on track.
- Jackson is homeless. His father still receives his mail and official paperwork, so he isn’t caught by social services, but “I wasn’t sure how much of that agreement Dad remembered, since he’d made it while working toward an epic high on heroin.”
- Jackson thought his Dad had sold his clothes “for drug money.”
- When Jackson’s Dad calls him for the first time in months, he grows suspicious and thinks of his schedule. His dad, “didn’t typically start the party until two a.m. First, a few beers, then tequila, and if that didn’t get him where he wanted, he’d hit the heroin.”
- Profanity is used frequently throughout the book. Profanity includes: damn, hell, crap, bastard, shit, holy shit, and dammit.
- Jackson’s online chess partner was “kicking my ass.”
- Zoe calls her math makeup homework “crappy.”
- Jackson said that he’d been, “riding a ship through the shit storm of life with my father at the helm.”
- Oh my God, God, and oh God are used as exclamations several times.
- Jackson calls Zoe a “badass.”
by Morgan Filgas