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Readers Advisory: Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose by Gillian McCain and Legs McNeil

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Sourcebooks Fire, $15.99 hardcover, ISBN-10 1402287585, April 2014

Go Ask Alice was a hoax. But Dear Nobody is a true teen diary so raw and so edgy its authenticity rings off every page. “I am a freak.” The words and drawings of Mary Rose present a gritty, powerful, no-holds-barred true experience of a teen girl so desperate to be loved, so eager to fit in that she’ll go to extremes that could cost her her life. This is not a story about addiction. Or sexual promiscuity. Or cystic fibrosis. It’s the story of a young woman with a powerful will to live, who more than anything wants to be heard…and loved.

Her parents failed her. Her body failed her. Her peers failed her. No wonder this broken, talented girl turned to drugs and alcohol, especially when everyone around her enabled her addiction, including her own mother.

On the one hand, these diary entries are angst-filled and repetitive. You can’t be sure from one entry to the next whether or not she’s exaggerating, lying to herself (hey, it’s what teen diaries are for), practicing the narrative craft without consciously realizing it, stoned, or actually being completely open. In the afterword, her mother claims Mary Rose exaggerated the negative, but then, she comes across in the book as the worst mother ever and a heavy substance abuser, so the reader winds up wondering the same things about the afterword. Since the plot is just her life, it’s not always exciting and doesn’t adhere to that story arc structure we all know and love/expect. It sort of goes, “Abuse substances, long for love and acceptance, get in trouble with cops, struggle with cystic fibrosis, get out of hospital,” lather, rinse, repeat.

On the other hand, this unintentional memoir is intense and important. It will take the adult reader back into the mindset of the adolescent. And for thousands of teens, at least part of this story will ring true to life. Unlike Go Ask Alice, this book makes no attempt to caution or teach. Mary Rose’s life simply is what it is. Certainly some of her experiences show the dangers of the party lifestyle, but mainly this diary is an inside portrait of the life of a young girl with a gift for words, a big heart no one tended, and a tragic, early end. For teens who don’t relate to Mary Rose’s struggles with addiction, her repeated poor choices may provide great discussion fodder for questions like, “But why doesn’t she just not drink? Why doesn’t she just dump that loser?”

This book contains sexual content as well as sexual violence and domestic violence, and is definitely aimed at mature teens.

Recommend to: Anyone looking for a gritty slice of real life

To buy or not to buy: An important but unconventional book. Best for public library YA collections although schools with open minds about material content would do well to have it also.

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