Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Published: April 1993
Genres: YA, Contemporary, fiction
My Rating: 4 Stars
The shocking thing about the girls was how nearly normal they seemed when their mother let them out for the one and only date of their lives. Twenty years on, their enigmatic personalities are embalmed in the memories of the boys who worshipped them and who now recall their shared adolescence: the brassiere draped over a crucifix belonging to the promiscuous Lux; the sisters’ breathtaking appearance on the night of the dance; and the sultry, sleepy street across which they watched a family disintegrate and fragile lives disappear.
A while back, like 10 years ago probably, I watched this movie with one of my really good friends when she was super obsessed with film and wanted to be a director. I remember not being as impressed as she was with it and wanted to read the book to see what I was missing about the narrative. When I created a Goodreads TBR, this was one of the first books I put on there, and now, long enough away that I literally remember zero percent of the movie, I have read the book.
I am going to say some mean things about this book, so I want to say some nice things first. I did overall enjoy it, it’s well written, and deserves the praise that it got. In 1993, I’m sure this was probably seen as an amazing book. It’s well written, damn near poetic in spots. It’s a good book and worth reading. Does it stand up looking at in 2018 as a modern person? Not really. It has a classic quality to it that shows just how much time has changed. And that my friends, is a good thing.
The tragic story of the Lisbon Girls is that of some extremely troubled teenagers that the boys narrating the story are obsessed with because they are pretty, blonde, perfect, and unattainable. The Lisbon Girls are basically dictionary definition Manic Pixie Dream Girls. If you asked me what an MPDG was, I would say “Lux Lisbon in The Virgin Suicides.” The whole story is told by these boys who seem to be missing that the girls were screaming for help and only saw them as objects. Objects for them to gawk at and talk about, for the adults in the books to gossip about just how sad it is what happened to the youngest girl, Cecilia, the first one to commit suicide. I know this book takes place in the 70’s and things were different, but these girls seem to have no one to help them, and as a woman in 2018, that’s the biggest tragedy of book.
As an aside, in the movie, AJ Cook plays Mary Lisbon, AJ Cook also plays JJ on Criminal Minds which is my favorite TV show. The only reason I bring this up is because both of these characters have a similar event in their lives and if AJ Cook didn’t play both of them I never would have thought about it. In Criminal Minds, JJ’s sister killed herself when JJ was a teenager. JJ grows up to be an FBI agent, her sister’s death is still a part of her life, part of her work, it comes up every now and again when there is a case the involves young women and possible suicides. Mary Lisbon doesn’t grow up, and she should have, but no adults around help her and her sisters.
This book was good, but it broke my heart, I know that these girls aren’t real, but the steps that were missed to save them, all of them because even Cecilia’s death could have been prevented, hurts my heart. Maybe that’s the point of the book, maybe it’s to help people see tragedy before it happens. However, how it’s told through these boys that were obsessed with their beauty, with watching them through telescopes and spying on them in windows puts a very creepy spin on it. The book mirrors the death of suburban Michigan, in the 1970’s, the death of elm trees to Dutch Elm disease, with the death of the iinnocentLisbon girls. These things are not equal.
Overall this is a beautifully written tragic book, that has a place among the great books, it’s a relic of how things used to be of how female characters were once something to be ogled at. The tragic story of the Lisbon sister is worth reading if you haven’t. If you like sad books (I love sad books) this one is for you. If you love feminism and great strong female characters, this book will probably make you angry and little annoyed.
Until next time Internet,