Developmentally disabled teens Biddy and Quincy have just graduated from high school. Biddy’s been living with her grandmother, and Quincy with various foster families, but now they need jobs and new living arrangements. A team of counselors arranges for the two graduates to share an apartment above a local widow’s garage. At first, Quincy and Biddy resent each other’s company, and mixed-race Quincy isn’t sure how she feels about interacting with a white landlady. But their strengths and weaknesses complement each other, and soon all three discover a sense of family and belonging that’s long eluded them.
Like other books in the emerging “new adult” category, Girls Like Us tackles issues like transitioning from school to work, paying bills for the first time and negotiating chores and boundaries with roommates. (There’s no consensual sex, although characters grapple with the lasting effects of sexual assault.) In alternating first-person narrations inspired by author Gail Giles’ longtime work with special-education students, Biddy and Quincy talk openly about their feelings, fears and daily struggles and triumphs. Sections are short (sometimes as brief as a paragraph or a single sentence), and the girls’ language is realistically simple.
This highly readable story is a welcome addition to a growing literature about teens with mental and physical challenges. Echoing the characters in John Green’s seminal YA novel The Fault in Our Stars, these two newly independent teens know that their disabilities aren’t their fault—and aren’t the only factors that define who they are.
Jill Ratzan reviews for School Library Journal and works as a school librarian at a small independent school in New Jersey. She learned most of what she knows about YA literature from her terrific graduate students.