Rebellion (n): The defiance of authority. Classic rebellions include but are not limited to: the Haitian Revolution, the French Revolution, and the American Revolution. Not to be mistaken for the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right” lyrical revolution.
The first novel, simply titled Fat Angie, traveled through some heavy territory: mental health, bullying, emotional abuse, coming out, losing a sister in the military to terrorists. Things in high school were hard for Fat Angie, who was repeating 9th grade after a very public mental breakdown and suicide attempt. But meeting new student KC and falling in love with her, all with the support of her neighbor, the popular Jake, was an upswing in life. She fought through her emotions, losing her persona “Fat Angie” and becoming “Angie.”
In Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution, she’s in 10th grade, still a year behind everyone else, and KC has moved away to live with her dad. Jake is being weird, and Angie is worried that he was only her pity friend as a promise to her dead military hero sister. Sliding into the old horrors of verbal and physical assault, our main character struggles to avoid being “Fat Angie,” a version of herself that she sees as not only fat, but stupid, weird, and embarrassing.
What I love about e.E. Charlton-Trujillo’s work is that they isn’t making a cute nerd who gracefully trips and is caught by an adorable boy. No, Angie is so weird that I cringe when I read, both because I want to be her friend and support system, and because she appears socially irredeemable. Angie is less a Jenny Han teen girl and more like Deb from Napoleon Dynamite taking glamour photos, telling her clients “Okay, hold still right there. Now, just imagine you’re weightless. You’re in the middle of the ocean. . . surrounded by tiny little sea horses” — that kind of teen girl.
Case in point: Angie receives a postcard from her dead war hero sister with an agenda of things that she planned on doing with Angie when she returned from the military. Living in Ohio, the sister tied the events to the state, such as rollerskating to a specific song and visiting the world’s largest basket (which I know is the headquarters of the Longaberger company (thanks, Granny!)).
Realizing she has to escape her vile, abusive lawyer mother, Angie leaves town with no mode of transportation to do her sister’s road trip alone. That’s when she enlists her former friend Jamboree, who has her hippy parents’ RV. One of the scheduled stops plans for Angie to do a very public thing that she is utterly terrified to do. Angie is told “don’t stress”:
Angie gave her the but-I-am-clearly-stressed look after fishing a creased birthday hat out of her backpack and slipping it on her head.
The crosswalk light signaled WALK.
“I don’t want to criticize another woman’s entry into the revolution but . . .” Zeke said, walking beside Angie. “But maybe lose the hat.”
“It contains me,” Angie said.
OMG, what?! I’m dyin’! How could you NOT be friends with that supremely weird person who, by the way, is not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. There are so many moments like this in Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution that slide into home base so naturally.
One thing I notice when I talk to teens today is that they don’t always explain their feelings in a complex way — and that’s perfectly normal. The more experiences you accumulate, the more you process and understand your emotional responses. Angie reads like a teen, not like a thirty-something woman (which describes almost every YA author I’ve read). Everyone wants to know how she’s surviving the very public death of her war hero sister, what it’s like to be on the news, how she feels about the memorial statue and yellow ribbons adorning her town. Angie knows she’s too weird to be socially acceptable, and tries to explain it:
“You can’t let them hear you,” Angie said. “The cameras, the neighbors, the terrorists — the f-ing ribbons. You can’t let them hear you dying every second of every minute of every hour of every day. There are 86,400 seconds of screaming-not-screaming in every single day. Crying-not-crying. Feeling-not-feeling. But it’s still so loud, you know? How can it be that loud?
If you think too hard about what Angie’s said, it makes sense and it doesn’t. It’s clumsy and accurate, both in the best way. I get what she wants her friends to know, but it’s still so unexplained. I was glad there wasn’t a heartwarming moment during which Angie knows exactly how she feels and communicates herself perfectly. It just wouldn’t be genuine.
Because I’ve become accustomed to the perfect-but-not-too-perfect endings of young adults novels (see Dumplin’, Puddin’, The Hate U Give, Mammoth, Vintage Veronica, etc.), I’m always relieved that Charlton-Trujillo remains realistic. You’re not leaving with the warm and fuzzies, but the author doesn’t burn you alive in a dumpster fire, either. A character with deep emotional issues isn’t going to acknowledge all the flaws in his/her/their life and promise to do better the in the future. But for all her efforts to live her life one foot in front of the other, Angie is occasionally awarded a good moment, a small progress, a speck of hope.
Love it, highly recommend it, but be aware that you need to read Fat Angie before you read Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution. Aren’t you lucky? For those of you looking for a novel with diverse characters: we have a fat girl, queer girls, gender non-conforming girls, an Asian boy, two Hispanic characters (Charlton-Trujillo is Mexican American), and some disability representation. If you can’t buy the book, please request it through your library. Cheers!