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Big Mouth & Ugly Girl is a 2002 novel by Joyce Carol Oates, the first and only novel that Joyce Carol Oates wrote for young adults. The book is set in suburban New York, and takes place in an upper-middle class high school.

The book is told from the viewpoint of the two titular characters: Matt Donaghy, a bright young man who has the bad habit of saying things he shouldn't, and Ursula Riggs, a tough, not-traditionally-feminine young woman. Both of these students are neither outcasts from the social hierarchy of the town, nor are they totally comfortable with their place in high school. The plot of the book begins when Matt Donaghy makes an off-hand remark about "blowing up the school", and is quickly detained by police and suspended from school. Ursula Riggs, who only knows Matt by name, overheard his joke, and is the only student at the school to not fall victim to hysteria and to insist that Matt was only joking. Her intervention ends the persecution of Matt, but after he is reinstated in school, he is a social pariah, and enters into a cycle of alienation and depression. He attempts suicide, but is again fortuitously saved by Ursula. Both of them work through their issues, find romance, and the high school ends the book a little wiser in the ways of tolerance.

The plot is not the major point of the book, although it is involving enough. The major point of the book is in the descriptions and internal monologues of the two characters, and in the portrayal of the social structure of a high school, especially in the wake of Columbine. I actually had the good fortune to read this book immediately after reading Twilight, which made the characterization in it seem very sterling, since Joyce Carol Oates actually knows how to infuse her characters with personality. But apart from the characters being believable and the plot being somewhat interesting, I am not totally sure what the message of this book was. One of the obvious messages is that the social structures of both high schools and suburbs can be somewhat stultifying: a point that is obviously beyond cliche. I can't really vouch for it having anything truly original to say about paranoia against teens, but there is obviously a lot of subtext to be examined. I guess overall the one disappointment in the book is that it reverses some of the conventions of its genre, without escaping them. The book is thankfully about two characters who are believable meeting and finding affection: but it still has a first kiss as its denouement. And while paranoia against teens is criticized in the book, it is replaced with the stock villain of a xenophobic, fundamentalist minister. So while it is certainly different and better than many mainstream young adult novels, it fails (in my eyes) to be truly transformative in its social and literary meaning.

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