This was one of the most hotly anticipated debuts of 2020 and I was definitely intrigued by it. It took me a while to get a copy though because I was still under the illusion that I could keep my promise to be more restrained about buying books. Once I had the copy in my possession, it still took me a while to get round to it, which is the reason I’m trying to be restrained about my book buying. I buy books thinking that I need to read them immediately but find my desire wanes when the time comes. Still, after my month of cosy crime, I was looking for something a little different and this seemed like a great thing to get my teeth into. I love a character study with little or no plot. From the sound of it, Pizza Girl would be right up my street.
For a long time, readers have been crying out for strong female protagonists in their fiction. Obviously, this does not refer to physical strength but literary strength. All we’ve really been wanting is complex women appearing on our pages and, finally, it looks as though we’re getting somewhere. Recent trends have been pushing us towards dysfunctional and emotionally fraught young women. Far from being the tired manic pixie dream girls or one-dimensional villains, these are characters suffering from real mental health problems. It’s refreshing and is what makes Jean Kyoung Frazier’s debut novel Pizza Girl so engaging.
The protagonist is a pregnant 18-year-old who works as a pizza delivery girl. Her father, an alcoholic, died a year ago and she has been struggling to come to terms with it all. It was because of her father’s death that she met her boyfriend, Billy as the pair attended the same grief counselling group. A few months later, she finds her whole life turned upside down. Billy is no longer going to college and the pair are living with her mother. Unsure of how she feels about the baby, the pizza girl is going through a great deal of emotional torment. So, when she meets a stay-at-home mum, the young woman quickly becomes obsessed.
This is a relatively short book anyway but Pizza Girl ended up being a super quick read. Mostly because I didn’t want to put it down. It was wonderful and I loved every minute of it. You can’t help but get drawn into the story and find out what happens next. I admit that it won’t be the kind of book that everyone will love and there are definitely elements that people won’t like/agree with. Alcohol abuse is a common theme throughout and our pregnant protagonist often turns to it for comfort. This isn’t a lovely and sweet book about the burgeoning friendship between an expectant mother and a middle-aged mother. It is the story of two women struggling to understand their identity especially with regards to their offspring.
Grief and the consequences of not facing grief are important themes throughout this book. There is a sadness and darkness that runs through it. You can feel the emotion and see the tension that exists in the narrator’s head. It can be difficult to watch her make certain steps and jeopardise her future. Yet it never feels too heavy. She is a funny and engaging character. This book contains dark humour and cynicism that lifts it. It’s not necessarily laugh out loud funny but it has its own joy. There is real life and humanity in the writing here. Despite her controversial actions, the Pizza Girl is understandable and it would be a hard-hearted person who couldn’t feel sympathy for her. You’ll also feel frustrated and irritated by her but that’s what makes her so compelling.
Mostly because Jean Kyoung Frazier does such a fantastic job of creating her voice. Pizza Girl is an incredibly strong and wonderfully written debut. It manages to get the point of view across and deal with plenty of significant issues. It doesn’t pretend to have the answers to any of life’s difficulties but it makes it clear that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. She gets in this young woman’s head and somehow manages to convey all of the things going on in it. There is a delightful rambling quality to the story that prevents things from going stale. It might not please people who need a structured narrative but it will please everyone interested in exploring everything a character has to offer.