Giraffe People by Jill Malone is a young adult book that is so beautiful, I often found myself putting it down to savour the writing style. It so perfectly captures the experience of growing up as a teenaged girl in the 90s that I sometimes felt like I was pulled back into my adolescence.
Nicole “Cole” Peters is 15 years old. Her dad runs the chaplain school at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey and her friends are other kids on the base. She dates a nice enough boy, Jeremy, and is best friends with Kelly until Kelly ditches Cole to date her brother. She does vocabulary lists every week with Meghan, who is being sponsored by Cole’s family as she prepares to qualify for West Point the following year. Cole plays with the basketball team and hangs out with a dude named Bangs, and eventually drops basketball because she joins a punk band. Meghan helps her convince her parents about the band and is sometimes able to chaperone Cole because she’s 18. There’s to a rhythm to everything until things take an unexpected turn with Meghan.
So, I get that my synopsis of Giraffe People just tells you who Cole is and what she does and gives little indication of actual plot. But there isn’t actually much plot to it. To call this book character driven is an understatement because Cole and her perspective don’t just drive the book, they are the book. We get glimpses into her life for almost a year, catching snatches here and there that may thread together or maybe they don’t. And it’s done in a way that feels raw and honest and gorgeous and messy and real. There are so many passages that just caught me, like this one:
Turns out indefatigable means tireless. That’s not what I thought, and kind of disappointing. Doesn’t it sound like it should mean hard to figure? My father is indefatigable about my salvation. Well, everybody’s, but his stance on mine is particularly relevant to me. No offense.
My dad wasn’t a chaplain, but he was a Baptist deacon and was definitely concerned with my salvation too (still is, I guess). And Cole’s frustration in that moment tore through me as she’s both sharing information about her relationship with her dad and also staking a claim for herself. Other times, she says things that could have been lifted from my high school diary, like when she says “Somebody ate all the chocolate pudding, and the swirled, and left only the vanilla. The people in this house upset me.” Because that’s literally how it felt to be 15. Pudding matters. Don’t be a jerk and eat it all.
Despite there being no plot and the pacing deliberately giving us that day-to-day feel of being 15, I was propelled relentlessly through Giraffe People—in the very best way. The writing style and Cole’s personality give the book a momentum that could never have worked if any other author had tried, because if you changed anything about it, it just wouldn’t work as well. Like having each chapter start with one of the vocabulary words and Cole’s definition? Genius. There’s more to it than that, but I don’t want to ruin anything by getting too specific in my fangirling over the way they’re used.
I’m wrapping up this part of the review with another quote, because Cole’s words speak to my experience reading this book so much better than I ever could:
Do you ever feel like you’ve exposed a secret when you read something you love? Like you’ve discovered a reality that, for whatever reason, had been kept from you? I think maybe the point of art is that it’s intimate, and steps across time, and feels like revelation, and that I’m different simply because I’ve experienced it.
Preach it, Cole.
I’m going to steal from Sheena and say: every word, every sentence, every paragraph. This book is masterfully written.
I have none. However, some people won’t like that Cole is dating Jeremy and that they have sex. It’s not explicit and it’s handled well, but I still know some of you might have an issue with that.
Giraffe People is an incredible book that climbed under my skin and stayed there. I’ve never read another book like this before, and I doubt I will again. Thank goodness that I can reread it anytime I want.
And because I can, I’m going to end this with one last quote: “After church on Sunday, I head upstairs for a bath, and another go at Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I don’t know how to break it to you, but Thomas Hardy hates all of us.”
She’s not wrong.
Excerpt from Giraffe People by Jill Malone
You know how everyone from Norway always wears sweaters, even when they’re fishing, or whatever, they have these really beautiful sweaters on? Meghan is just like that with the knitted sweaters. Hers are in greens and blues, knitted by her mother, and they fit her perfectly like maybe her mom knitted them right to her. Today she’s wearing one with a rolled collar, and rolled wrists in a sea-foam green that makes her hair seem even blonder.
“Muse,” she says. Her socked feet on the armrest, she’s propped on four of my mother’s throw pillows.
“OK, are you kidding me with this one?” I tell her the definitions, and the parts of speech.
“In my entire class of twenty-five, nobody put anything but noun. We got a long lecture about thoroughness.”
“Oh?” I raise my eyebrows in an effort not to gloat.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard it used as a verb,” she says.
“Let me muse on that.”
She flings her pen at me.
Get This Book On Amazon
Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781612940397
- Publisher: Bywater Books
Jill Malon Online
Note: I received a free review copy of Giraffe People by Jill Malone. No money was exchanged for this review. I will always review books as honestly as possible and on occasion I refuse to review books.