The New Girl

Sourcebooks/Fire. Feb. 2022. 368p. pap. $10.99. ISBN 9781728215198.
Gr 9 Up–When Lia Setiawan, “the next Usain Bolt,” comes to the prestigious Draycott Academy on a track scholarship, she finally sees the path forward to college and the future of her dreams. Lia anticipated a struggle fitting in with her wealthy boarding school classmates. She did not, however, predict the bullying she’d endure on the school’s gossip app, the rampant drug and alcohol use, the cheating ring run by a teacher, or the murder. Lia’s conversational narration adeptly balances the drama and suspense of the plot with tension-abating humor and irreverence. Racism to and within the Asian community is explored through Lia’s family and her interactions with her peers. Her deceased father’s Chinese-Indonesian family scorns her native Indonesian mother, and her track rival Mandy Kim regularly derides Southeast Asians. Entitlement, privilege, and morality in the face of injustice are other prominent themes. Anytime Lia tries to do the right thing, she is dismissed in order to protect the reputation of the wealthy. Much of Lia’s ethical perseverating can be reduced to the question: Is it really cheating when the test is already rigged? These moral complexities add some meat to this otherwise fun and soapy thriller. The ending is predictable, and some references (Betsy DeVos, 2005 movie The-40-Year-Old Virgin) feel slightly inauthentic coming from high school sophomores.
VERDICT Equal parts drama, humor, and angst, this boarding school thriller also delves into themes of racism and justice, and is recommended for general purchase, and for fans of Karen M. McManus’s One of Us Is Lying, Holly Jackson’s Good Girl, Bad Blood, and the streaming series Gossip Girl.

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