Special: A Novel - Bella Bathurst Bathurst gets major credit for being an amazing character writer. The understanding she displays with each girl (the weird one (Ali), the revolting outcast (Izzy), the queen bitch (Caz), the self-loather (Lola), and the confused fuck-up (Jules)) is what carries this book. It's also what pulls in a reader, an especially effective hook for someone like me, who's only ten years removed from Bathurst's focus group. The characters were the main draw, so brilliantly written and so raw that I was actually uncomfortable throughout a lot of the first half. (Reminded me too much of my own history and brought back too many of the unpleasant emotions and thought patterns that dominated the female middle school mindset.) Beautifully done on that score.

However, the author loses points for having no idea what a streamlined, satisfying plot is. While I spent a lot of time nodding my head, remembering the social hell that was middle school, and relating to several of the characters (all but Caz, actually), I also spent the last third or so of the book rolling my eyes. There were too many things packed together, and as the plot fell completely apart at the end, so did the characterizations that held Special together. (Honestly, if Bathurts had ended it about 50 pages earlier around page 244, the book would have picked up another star. One of the tricks of writing is realizing when to stop. Hint: before the plot jumps out of the believable and into the sensational.) Unfortunately, this degeneration is also what made the book so unsatisfying when I finished it. She should have focused on a character study, because the decision to end the book as she did was a bad one. Bad enough that I've marked the book as a trade-in at the used bookstore, instead of granting it the place on my shelf that the first two-thirds earned.

(The last few chapters fell apart so completely that only Caz hitting the pavement instead of Jules would have saved it for me, despite the cliche ending and the too-neat wrap-up. Because I knew a Caz or two when I was thirteen and fourteen, and that would have been sweet, sweet karma.)

Also? What the hell was up with the constantly shifting viewpoints between the girls? Distracting and uneven. There was no rhyme or reason to the switch from Ali to Jules or Lola. In fact, I remember the author switching points of view in the middle of a scene once or twice. Was there no good editor around to put a stop to that?

I've also noticed several reviewers on here complaining about how these girls seemed too old to actually be thirteen and fourteen years old. In my experience, this is not the case. I won't get too in-depth (because no one cares and my mother is on GoodReads, which could make for some awkward dinner conversation), but the behavior on display in Special is not so different from what was going on around me at that age. Sex, alcohol, sneaking out, the fascination with boys, dangerous behavior, setting other girls up for a fall, endangering other girls for a laugh or a step up the social ladder...all of this was rampant, unfortunately. (Hence, the whole "middle school hell" thing.) Of course, I went to a very small private school, which may have amplified the behavior. Your mileage may vary.