HomeReviewReview: Polarity in Motion by Brenda Vicars

Polarity in MotionThis book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

“Fifteen-year-old Polarity Weeks just wants to live a normal life, but with a mother diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, that’s rarely easy. Her life gets exponentially more disastrous when her sixth-period history classmates start ogling a nude picture of her on the Internet. Polarity would never have struck such a shameless pose, but the photo is definitely of her, and she’s at a complete loss to explain its existence.

Child Protective Services yanks her from her home, suspecting her parents. The kids at school mock her, assuming she took it herself. And Ethan, the boy she was really starting to like, backpedals and joins the taunting chorus. Surrounded by disbelief and derision on all sides, Polarity desperately seeks the truth among her friends. Only then does she learn that everyone has dark secrets, and no one’s life is anywhere near normal.”

This book was an unexpected jewel, one that I found by accident when it was a daily deal on Barnes and Noble.  I thought it was going to be another typical “teen angst” novel mixed with issues like sexting and/or bullying, but what this book deals with goes so much deeper than that.  What I found as I got into this novel was a nuanced and bluntly honest look at a girl learning about privilege.

The base of the story is Polarity’s quest to figure out who took the picture of her and how they could have done it.  From this beginning, the novel branches off in several directions that all feed into each other.  The first thing you notice is that Polarity is presumed to be guilty of deliberately taking the picture, no matter what she says.  She’s the new girl and has attracted the attention of the bullying girls, so as the odd one out, she’s automatically thought to be ripe to do something like that.  From there, Polarity briefly enters the foster care system and is confronted by the realization that her case is likely prioritized not only because she’s white, but because she has two parents actively fighting for her.

Slowly, Polarity begins to notice the inequalities all around her, and the all-or-nothing mindset that feeds into such beliefs.  Her name is symbolic of more than just her mother’s desire to remember that there’s always another side to what she thinks; it’s symbolic of the extremes that can often seem to characterize our day to day social interactions.  Something is either wonderful or terrible; a person is either completely good or completely bad; we rush to judgement based on the thinnest of tidbits of information.

This isn’t to say that Polarity gets it right the first time, or even the second or third time.  She stumbles, she backslides, she makes mistakes.  The important thing is that she learns from those moments.  Again, many novels would portray Polarity as just that–either completely ignorant of her privilege or a paragon of knowledge about the problem.  Polarity here is very real, learning by doing and not always getting the point immediately.  It gave me a lot of respect for her, and a lot of respect for the author to have written Polarity so well.

Yeah, there’s a lot of “issue” novels out lately, but this one is one of the best.  Questions of how we combat privilege are rampant in our society today, and we need novels like this one to help us think through these ideas in a safe and honest way.

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