Why did Lorrie Ann look so graceful in beat-up Keds and shorts a bit too small for her? Why was it charming when she snorted from laughing too hard? Yes, we were jealous of her, and yet we did not hate her. She was never so much as teased by us, we roaming and bratty girls of Corona del Mar, thieves of corn nuts and orange soda, abusers of lip gloss and foul language. (pp 6 – 7)
We’ve all known that girl. The one so perfect you want to hate her, and yet so nice that you just can’t. Maybe that girl was even your friend, and maybe, like Mia in Rufi Thorpe’s The Girls from Corona del Mar, you chose to become wholly imperfect rather than even attempt to compete.
In the very first page, Mia asks Lorrie Ann to break one of her toes, because “it made a lot of intuitive symbolic sense to force the beautiful, pure, and good Lorrie Ann to break my toe and punish me for my abortion” (p 3). Almost immediately, Thorpe establishes the girls’ friendship: Mia is the purported bad girl who gets pregnant at fifteen and Lorrie Ann is so “pure and good” that she is almost an angel, vested with an almost divine right to dispense judgement.
The adult in us knows this can’t be accurate. No one can be as perfect as Lorrie Ann appears to be, and a young girl should not face corporal punishment for having made a difficult decision. Yet Thorpe does a great job in taking us back into the psyche of youth. We see the world through Mia’s eyes, and while we may believe her wrong to be the “bad twin” to Lorrie Ann’s good, we likely understand all too well the feelings of inadequacy that led to that.
We follow the girls as they grow up, and Mia inevitably not only becomes disillusioned by Lorrie Ann, but begins to realize she may never have understood her friend as much as she thought she did in the first place. The story is about Mia growing up, and coming into her own beyond the shadow of Lorrie Ann, or rather of Mia’s memories of her. And Mia is a richly developed character — slowly realizing her worth and freedom to define herself beyond the good twin/bad twin binary.
Yet it is Lorrie Ann who steals the show — given Mia’s idealized image of her, we never really get to know the woman behind the image. Mia describes Lorrie Ann’s story as a series of bad luck, and Lorrie Ann as a naive young woman struggling to keep her inherent goodness while coping with everything. Yet it isn’t until later that we hear a bit of Lorrie Ann’s own perspective and realize how much richer a character she is than we have known. This woman is compelled to be with broken men, yet unable to cope with the brokenness of her own child. She goes through a lot of bad and good things as an adult, as try as Mia might to explain her behaviour, the “real” Lorrie Ann remains elusive, to Mia and therefore also to the reader. A message near the end brings a harsh dose of reality, yet it absolutely needed to be said.
This story could easily have turned into a simplistic fable about growing up, and it is a testament to Thorpe’s talent that both Mia and Lorrie Ann emerge as such rich, vivid, complex characters. Thorpe resists the easy moral at every turn, and therefore makes the reader see how futile it would be to reduce the story and its characters into anything neat. Like real life, this book is messy. It’s confusing, and characters make unexpected choices, yet it all feels real.
There are things in the story that strain credulity — the episodes in Lorrie Ann’s life could be a soap opera, and the ending of her tale makes sense only if the reader remembers a minor detail mentioned once near the beginning and never brought up again. In contrast, Mia’s life appears almost too good to be true, as if the contrast between them that Mia set up as a teenager fully reversed in their adulthood. It’s a bit of apparent oversimplification that’s disappointing mostly because it stands in stark contrast to the richness of the character development.
Still, it’s a really good book overall, a wonderful exploration of the power of female friendship, such that one forged in childhood can have such a lasting effect even on your adult life. This is Thorpe’s first novel, and I’ll definitely keep an eye out for her next.
Thank you to Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.