Published by HarperTeen on May 17th, 2016
Pages: 400 pages
Amazon • Indiebound • Barnes & Noble • Goodreads
Maguire is bad luck.
No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the rollercoaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.
It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid meeting new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away is harder than she thought.
From author Paula Stokes comes a funny and poignant novel about accepting the past, embracing the future, and learning to make your own luck.
This is where I would usually write an introduction about why you should check out Paula Stokes’ new book Girl Against the Universe, but honestly, her guest post does a brilliant job of that already! It’s a contemporary YA novel about a girl named Maguire who feels guilty for surviving a bad accident and has started to believe she might be the cause of anything bad that happens around her, and it’s a story that’s strong on friendships, parent/teen relationships, positive therapy experiences, and more.
I think many readers can relate to being introverts, or feeling nervous in social situations, so I’m honored to have Paula here to talk about how fear can manifest in an anxiety like Maguire’s. She’s also generously offering up an autographed hardcover to our readers, so stick around for the giveaway at the end.
Why Anxiety Does Not Make Us Weak
by Paula Stokes
I was in ninth grade the first time I experienced serious anxiety. Geometry class. We had to give some sort of oral presentation about proofs. I was overwhelmed by a sense of dread as my turn to speak drew near, not because I was afraid I wouldn’t do well—I was one of those kids who got As in the academic subjects without really trying—but just because I didn’t want to do it.
As I stood in front of the class, I noticed the paper I was reading from was actually shaking in my hands. My face got hot and my legs felt wobbly beneath me. My brain went a little cloudy. It was almost like an out-of-body experience, where I was watching myself struggle but couldn’t figure out how to fix things. I survived, but I spent the next few years trying to avoid any kind of public speaking.
And I didn’t admit to myself or anyone else that I had anxiety until I was thirty-years-old. You know why? Teenage me, twenty-something me, we felt like anxiety was for weak people. No, that’s wrong. I am still terrified of public speaking, but I am not weak. I am one badass chick ;) Social anxiety is just my deal, like some people have high blood pressure and some people can’t cope with change and others are chronic procrastinators. Call it an imperfection if you want. We are not weak because we have imperfections. We’re human. Human is good. If we’ve learned one thing from reading a million dystopian novels, it’s that societies full of “perfect” people are doomed to fail, right?
In Girl Against the Universe, my main character’s survivor’s guilt manifests partially as anxiety in social situations and a fear that she’s bad luck. Maguire has been in multiple accidents where she alone emerged unscathed, and her brain has twisted this around to make her believe that her mere presence might cause injury to others. I realize that’s an odd premise, and although part of this story was sparked by real life experiences I had, part of it is probably a manifestation of my own subconscious fears. I worked as a nurse for five years. Many medical professionals go through every shift afraid they might accidentally hurt someone.
That’s what anxiety boils down to—fear. There are a lot of theories about where fear comes from, but at least some of it is evolution-based. We can’t control the things we are innately afraid of, just like we can’t control which people we find attractive or the things that make us cry. We are not the boss of our emotions, no matter how much we like to pretend that we are. And we can’t judge ourselves as weak or inferior for stuff we can’t control.
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.” –Mark Twain
So does that mean we have to change, that we have to fight against our anxiety? Nope. You don’t have to do anything, unless you want to. Prior to the beginning of Girl Against the Universe, Maguire has developed obsessive-compulsive coping strategies to deal with her anxiety. She limits her time in public. She completes a series of good luck rituals each morning. When she’s at school, she does these five-second checks where she scans her environment for possible threats. It sounds like a lot to deal with, but she’s made it work for her. When she decides to actually participate in her parent-mandated therapy sessions, it’s not because someone told her that she should. It’s because her situation has changed. She has a new goal, one that she wants to achieve, but she can’t do it unless she gets over some of her fears. And to do that, she needs help.
Maybe your anxiety is mild, or it’s only keeping you from doing things you don’t want to do anyway. If you have acrophobia and avoid planes, roller coasters, and other high places, but you don’t mind because you’d rather travel by train and think amusement parks are way overrated, then you may have no interest in ever changing. If you’re terrified of romantic rejection, but you’re really happy being single, then you might not want help.
“I want you to know that people can have anxiety and do lots of stuff and actually be happy. I want you to know that exists.” –Maureen Johnson
But if your anxiety is holding you back from happiness, or your situation changes and you find yourself like a kid with his faced pressed against the window of a pet store thinking, “I wish I could go in there,” then reach out for help. Start small if you want. Read this post from Maureen Johnson. Meditate. Do some Googling, Talk to a trusted friend. If you decide you need to step it up, ask your primary care provider to recommend a therapist or get a referral from nami.org. A therapist does not automatically equal medicine. You don’t have to take any meds you don’t want to, but hey, why not at least talk about the options?
When I finally admitted I needed help at age thirty, it was because I was struggling in nursing school. Not with my grades, but with my clinical check-offs. I had to go to the ER of a huge city hospital to practice IVs for the very first time. Shaky hands + fuzzy anxiety brain + volatile patients = EPIC FAIL. “Remember, if you do it wrong you could cause permanent nerve damage,” my instructor said breezily. “Have fun!” I signed up for the last possible day and basically threw up every time I even thought about it. I was seriously debating dropping out of school when I finally talked to a college counselor. We went through some of my thought processes, trying to reframe things in a more positive way. I ended up seeing my general practitioner and getting a beta-blocker (heart medicine that blunts the “fight-or-flight” response) to help reduce my shaking. And thanks to that help, I not only graduated near the top of my class, I received an award for clinical excellence!
I hope it goes without saying, but asking for help is the antithesis of weak. Anyone can suffer in silence. It takes guts to admit we’re not perfect.
At its heart, Girl Against the Universe is a warm and funny book full of family, friendship, and romance. It is not a gritty, serious book about mental illness. However, one of my goals was to create a main character who readers with anxiety would feel was an authentic, respectful representative—a girl they would admire and want to cheer for. Maguire’s psychological issues will be worse than a lot of people’s, and I wanted her to be a source of hope, like “Hey, if she can do it, so can I.”
Throughout the novel, Maguire is angry, anxious, and obsessive at times. She has panic attacks. She blames herself for stuff that isn’t her fault. She makes mistakes. But she’s not weak. Neither am I. Neither are you.
About the Author:
Paula Stokes is the author of several YA novels, including The Art of Lainey, Liars, Inc. and Girl Against the Universe (May 17, 2016.) She cried a little bit while writing this guest post, but that’s okay because crying doesn’t make us weak either. She wants you to know that no matter what your particular deal is, you are not alone <3
Win a Copy of Girl Against the Universe!
Huzzah, there are two opportunities to win the book, and yes, you may enter both if you qualify!
1. Thanks to Paula and our friends at HarperTeen, we’re offering up one autographed copy of the finished hardcover–and the giveaway is open to both domestic and international readers! All you have to do is retweet Wendy’s tweet about the giveaway. Just be sure to use the official RT button, because if you just quote the tweet, I won’t see it when I’m choosing a winner.
2. I also have an ARC of the book I’m happy to pass on to a US resident as well, preferably to someone who will pledge to read it and and post a review to his/her blog, GoodReads, or Amazon. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below telling me why you’d like to read the book!
Both giveaways end Monday, May 2nd, 2016 and our usual giveaway rules apply.
Review and giveaway copies were provided by the author.
Incidentally, one of the characters in the book is named Pili–and I was tickled to see in the author’s note she’s named after our blogger friend Pili at In Love with Handmade! Isn’t that fun? Be on the lookout for a kindly nurse. :)
You should definitely check out Paula’s books if you haven’t already. I’m a big fan of her writing and her personally, and I’m always a fan of books that portray therapy in a positive, healthy way. And I promise–no glorifying/romanticizing of mental illness here.