Girl Overboard by Justina Chen Headley

Posted by Cecilia Leger on 7:31 PM in ,

I closed the last pages of the book feeling as if I were standing outside on the porch, waving goodbye to a cherished friend who's been over for a long visit, remaining there until long after the taillights have disappeared into the night.

I react to my experience with the book on many levels – as a reader, a daughter, an artist, a woman – grateful for a story with layers of meaning and interest, a trademark, I now know, of Headley's writing. My weekend with Girl Overboard was, indeed, an experience, not a simple act of turning pages and absorbing words.

I found myself especially touched by Syrah, the protagonist. As I read her story, I revisited some of my own ghosts and self-doubts, crying when I needed to; ultimately, satisfyingly, reaching the same sense of peace.

One of my favorite authors, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, once wrote that Love (and here I would substitute "Art") is the process leading you gently back to yourself.

And that is what Headley's writing does, why her books are different from the rest. To be sure, she is a master of the craft: her characters are believable, the plot is interesting and moves forward at a good pace, her subject matter is well-researched and yet presented in a manner that is accessible to a novice. But going beyond the technical and into the mystical is where she shines.

For me, Headley's writing is that gently leading back to oneself that Saint-Exupéry defines as love; a presentation of a story that rises above entertainment and leads softly, unrushed, to catharsis. Girl Overboard does entertain, but it invites self-reflection as well. Not because it is preachy, because it isn't at all, but because Syrah and the other characters live through a cacophony of emotions that resonate loudly with readers. The need to feel loved and the lengths to which we'll go to get it, the sometimes clumsy journey we take as we find our place in the world, the delicate balance we must achieve in understanding and accepting other...these themes (among others) awakened an answering chord in my heart as I read.

As a bonus, Headley sets these universal themes against a backdrop that is novel. Syrah is a snowboarder and a manga artist, two things about which I had little (in the case of snowboarding) or no (in case of manga art) knowledge. She is Chinese-American, a culture with which I'm not familiar. Headley interweaves information about all of this smoothly into the story, not to impress with her knowledge, but to lend more substance and depth to the writing, much like an artist adds shadows to a drawing. These details don't attract attention to themselves, but without them, the characters would be one-dimensional, stilted, unreal.

As a writer, Headley’s work inspires me; as a reader, it delights me. I know her characters will stay with me for a long time to come.

For a synopsis of the novel and information on the author, please visit her website at http://www.justinachenheadley.com.


Such a lovely review of a beautiful work!

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