Girl Against the Universe: Why Anxiety Doesn’t Make Us Weak + international giveaway

April 25, 2016 2016, contemporary, giveaway, paula stokes, realistic fiction, Wendy 35

Girl Against the Universe: Why Anxiety Doesn’t Make Us Weak + international giveawayGirl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes
Published by HarperTeen on May 17th, 2016
Genres: contemporary
Pages: 400 pages
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
AmazonIndieboundBarnes & NobleGoodreads
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.

vine-divider-finalWhy 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 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.

Paula Stokes 2 web resAbout 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

Keep up with Paula’s latest news through her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and GoodReads.

girl against the universe

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.

vine-divider-finalIncidentally, 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.

Wendy signature teal





35 Responses to “Girl Against the Universe: Why Anxiety Doesn’t Make Us Weak + international giveaway”

  1. Miranda Lewis

    I suffer from anxiety and it’s nice that authors are starting to write these tough subjects and give them the spotlight they deserve. Many don’t want to write about these issues but it’s sad to say so many of us suffer from depression, anxiety and all sorts of other mental health diagnostics. By having then written within the young adult genre it also helps guide our youth that you can overcome these things and life will be ok.

  2. Thomas

    Such wonderful remarks from the author! As someone who wants to pursue a career as a clinical psychologist, I am always so thankful for the YA community for leading the charge when it comes to discussing and de-stigmatizing mental health. And thank you, too, to this blog – for sharing Paula Stokes’s words and bringing even more light to an important issue.

  3. Morgan

    She sounds like an amazing author that touches on a lot of really important subjects! You give a fabulous review here! These seem like great reads. Nursing school is certainly tough to get through, but she proves it is possible with a little help and encouragement. Awesome post! Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. ChatEbooks

    I’ve read some of Paula’s books but I have a feeling this is a little different. Mental illness is a serious issue and I loved how she portrayed it in a realistic light where readers can relate to it. I think more books should tackle issues like this and use it to help those who suffer from the illness to feel empowered and deal with each day with a positive mindset. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Abbie Ford

    I’d love to read/review it! I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder 6 years ago (when I was 18), and I’ve never read a novel where the main character has dealt with those issues. I’m so glad it’s becoming more normal for characters to be dealing with mental health issues! Kids (and adults) who suffer from them can really benefit from hearing stories they relate to.

  6. Rachel Schieffelbein

    The book sounds wonderful. My younger sister and my best friend both deal with anxiety and I’d love to be able to pass this book along to them.

  7. Kristy Petree

    I would love a chance because I’ve read several of Paula’s posts about the book, which sounds great, (and read some of Paula’s other books) and I suffer from numerous anxiety and panic disorders. Thanks for the chance!

  8. Carina Olsen

    Such a lovely post Wendy :D Thank you so much for sharing. <3 You are awesome. I love this guest post a whole bunch. Sadly, I did not like this book much at all. Sigh. But it is so pretty, hih :) I hope you are doing great sweet Wendy. <3 All the hugs.
    Carina Olsen recently posted…Review: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

  9. Estefany Nunez

    The plot is so interesting! Anxiety and fear are a big part of my life and unfortunately, I haven’t read many books with female protagonists that tackle that concept. I love fiction, being introduced to new individual characters and their complexity. It’s what makes reading so fun, it’s such a luxury so when that’s tackled, a blossoming romance and in a contemporary! Girl Against The Universe sounds perfect and I would definitely love to read and gush about this book! :)

  10. Alyssa

    Hello! I would love to read this book because I have found one of my biggest daily struggles is learning to deal with my own anxiety. My parents don’t understand my anxiety and instead just attribute it to me being a teenager. I really feel like I can identify with this book on a personal level.

  11. Paulina Subia


    I would love to win this book because I feel that the topic is very interesting. The discussion of any sort of anxiety in YA is very rare, and I’ve been looking for a book that is like this one for the longest! :)

    (I also have a bookstagram if you’d like to check it out: @booknirvana !)

  12. Sara Strauss

    I get anxious about things all the time: talking to people, being late, going to work meetings and possibly having to talk, etc. So glad other people get just as anxious and that people are writing about it! My anxiety doesn’t hold me back, but it does make life a little harder! This book sounds so cute and I love the cover!
    Sara Strauss recently posted…Pocket Book Reviews {April 2016} + Giveaway

  13. Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

    Thank you, Paula! I, too, have experienced anxiety on and off, probably for most of my life. I didn’t recognize it or do anything about it until it eventually blew up into permanent state of high anxiety, topped off with panic attacks. Thankfully after getting help (both counseling and medication) and dealing with medical conditions that had kicked it into high gear, I’m now back to a place where it’s manageable, and most days are good ones. But it would have been so helpful, when I was a teen, to read about someone with anxiety. I look forward to reading your book!

  14. Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings

    I really LOVE this post! It’s so important to portray mental illness in a realistic light and in such a way that readers can relate to it and feel empowered by those who live and struggle with those illnesses every day. I’m glad to see an emergence of novels that deal with issues of mental illness in YA, recently, and I hope that they’re all as thoughtfully written and well-researched as Stokes’s seems to be. I can’t wait to pick this one up! Wonderful post and thanks for sharing this with us, Wendy! :)

  15. Pili @ In Love With Handmade

    What a fantastic guest post from Paula! I don’t suffer from anxiety, at least not in a degree where it affects my choices, decision process or my ability to sleep at night, but one of my best friends does and when her anxiety attacks get bad she can have the hardest time fighting them to do the most trivial of things…

    Also *waves* I am still floored & giddy that Paula included me in the book and my patients and co-workers are totally tickled pick to hear that I’m in a book! =D
    Pili @ In Love With Handmade recently posted…The Rose And The Dagger by Renée Ahdieh Release Day Blitz!!

  16. Kaitlyn A.

    I would 0-0 (love) to read this book because it sounds like an adorable contemporary read (see what I did there?)! I am also a tennis player and I think this is the first young adult book I’ve seen that includes tennis!

  17. Wendy

    I would love to read this book and then share it with my middle school classroom. I have family members and students who deal with anxiety, some to a massive extent, and I love that there are more and more books with representation of mental health issues. I also love the author’s point about societies of “perfect” people in dystopias!

  18. Christina Mateke-Gibson

    I just heard about this yesterday! I can’t wait to read it. I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life, and it’s so comforting to know I’m not alone.