Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harsh Pink, Color Me Burned

Harsh Pink, Color Me Burned by Melody Carlson is a teen novel about mean girls. Reagan Mercer moves to a new school, tries out for cheerleading, and makes the squad. In doing so, she bumps out the most popular girl in school, Kendra. Two of Kendra’s best friends have made the squad, and the trio will not be separated. Kendra is only a team alternate, but attends all the practices, hosts team parties, and pretty much controls the vote when they select new uniforms. Kendra, Meredith, and Sally target Reagan and another squad member, Jocelyn. They use subtle jabs and pressure to make the girls extremely uncomfortable, in the hopes one of them will quit and allow Kendra to slide into place.
At home, Reagan offers to care for her live-in grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t want to see her put into assisted living because Nana has always been her companion. Reagan’s mother is single, works long hours, and dumps an unreasonable amount of responsibility on Reagan.
Reagan eventually gets sucked into Kendra’s sphere of influence, turns her back on Jocelyn, and begins to slack on her Grandmother’s care. She doesn’t speak up when Kendra tampers with Jocelyn’s uniform, and when the clothes fall off at a football game, Jocelyn gets kicked off the squad for using foul language. (The words are not explicit in the text). Reagan feels sick with guilt but continues to hang out with Kendra, and after a long day with her new best friend, she comes home to find that Nana has fallen and broken her pelvis. At this point, Reagan asks herself if she is as selfish as her new cheerleading friends. She thinks, “…Into the place where my heart used to be…Now it’s just this hard, cold, painful spot that slowly grows bigger. I think someday I will be made entirely of steel.”
Her savior comes in the form of a neighborhood girl, Andrea Lynch. They met over the summer, but Reagan ditched her fast when school started because she wasn’t popular. Andrea is a Christian and feels called to visit Reagan’s grandmother after school. Her youth group has a ministry at the nursing home where Nana is recuperating.
Andrea tells Reagan she used to be friends with Kendra and her crowd until they forced a girl to play a choking game at a party. The girl became hooked on the euphoric feeling and accidentally died. Andrea explains that God intervened in her life and showed her a new way. Reagan admits to Andrea that she is sick of the lies and meanness, but doesn’t know what to do.
Reagan faces a tough decision when she is invited to Sally’s eighteenth birthday party. The cheerleaders are binge drinking and they try to convince Reagan to join them. Luckily, this is one area she will not cave. Despite her concern that Sally isn't feeling well, Reagan starts to walk home. She is tearful, torn, and upset when Andrea pulls up next to her in a car. They discuss the situation and Reagan goes back to the party after hearing that Jesus would have joined them.
Reagan cleans up the booze and sees that Sally is barely breathing. She calls 911 and saves Sally's life. All the girls are kicked off the cheerleading squad and Sally stays in a coma for several days. The tragedy clinches Reagan's decision to become a Christian.
What I Like: The author writes in the first person, so the reader can easily place herself in the situation. The reader is privy to all of Reagan’s internal moral struggles. The dialog is natural and makes the novel a quick read. I found myself reflecting over my own high school years, and while I did not experience or witness cruelty to this degree, I recalled situations that gave me great sympathy for Reagan. Don’t we all wish we knew then what we know now?
This novel discusses social drinking and self-asphyxiation, but there are no detailed physical dating situations. The only suggestive phrase in the book is when Kendra says she wants to "do” a certain boy. At times, it was shocking how devious and cold-hearted these girls could be.
I recommend this book to anyone with a teen or tween daughter. This novel could be a starting point for a conversation about verbal bullying, peer pressure, and honesty. This novel is the twelfth in Melody Carlson's True Colors series.
What I Dislike: It takes a long time to get to any reference of Christianity, and the first time it's mentioned, it’s very abrupt. Reagan asks Andrea why she is helping take care of her Grandmother with Alzheimer's, and Andrea replies, “….Jesus has put her on my heart.... I think she needs me to show her a Jesus kind of love.” I’m not sure many Christian teens would have the confidence to use those words to a non-believer without first stating simply that they were Christian.

Overall Rating: Very Good

Age Appeal: Teens

Publisher Info: NavPress, 2007; ISBN: 1-57683-952-4; Paperback; $12.99


David Murdoch said...

I always find myself introducing my christianity abruptly even among those who don't know I'm christian, and I did this when I was a teenager. A lot of people are perhaps offended by christianity although I have no reason to feel ashamed of myself. I could imagine how some christian teens would find themselves uncomfortable doing so, however.

God Bless,

Robin said...

The transition from a teen not saying one word about her faith to suddenly becoming passionate about it was the only part of the novel I found slightly unrealistic. Even though the cruel girls did some shocking things, I know they happen in schools right now. It's a shame we don't hear more about the real, good faith conversations that must happen... somewhere.