In Which I Attempt to Discuss the Importance of Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer...
You know how some things--whether they're books, movies, television show or whatever--that just work their way into your heart and don't let go? The things that become a part of you? That's the way I feel about Liza Palmer's books--every single one of them, each in a special way.
I loved Nowhere But Home because it filled that omnipresent FNL-shaped hole in my heart; More Like Her for its perfect final scene; A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents for its clear-eyed depiction of family; Seeing Me Naked is just a damn good book; and Conversations with a Fat Girl is laugh out loud hilarious.
Her latest, Girl Before a Mirror, just might edge out the rest as my favorite.
Advertising executive Anna has just turned 40, is recently divorced, her old friends have become fading away and her career aspirations mean she has to land a big new client for her agency. While preparing her strategy, she discovers the book Be the Heroine, Find Your Hero, and is inspired to create a campaign to revitalize her dream client's stale body wash brand by signing the winner of the Romance Cover Model of the Year competition as her campaign's spokesman.
Anna and her new young (and very pretty) colleague Sasha head off to Arizona to make it happen. Except, participating in the romance novel reader convention forces Anna to confront her perceptions and the impact of those biases on her life and career.
When I started writing about Girl Before a Mirror--back in September!--I went through my highlights and my final wordcount on passages I'd highlighted on my Kindle was over 3,000--that's how much of this book just hit me right in the brain-heart-gut convergence. There are so many themes that will resonated with me, a big one of which was the cultural expectation that women feel ashamed about things they enjoy.
I've experienced this so much, both on a personal level when an adult student of mine says that the books I write about on this blog "don't count" (true story) to the frequency with which media outlets shit on books such as genre romance and young adult fiction. Hell, just a few weeks ago, Book Riot published their 800th (approximately) post peppered with snide remarks about romance novels and their "girly" readers. (Did you know there's exactly one romance novel that's "decently" written?) Oh, and then a self-described feminist website crapped all over romance readers just this week.
Or on a bigger level, how often do articles about Taylor Swift start out with a brush off about her young teenage fans in an attempt to diminish her popularity? Or do we see yet another column shocked and amazed that women are an economic force?
Like most of us, Anna has internalized this diminishment, which is particularly sharp because of her career path in advertising. As anyone who's worked in marketing-related fields, there are certain niches that are considered to be the signal of real accomplishment: cars, politics, sneakers, etcetera.
Even in the work I do--digital communications--I've experienced this. Folks are confused that I primarily--by choice--work with small, woman-owned businesses, with people like me. I've had opportunities to work with "bigger" and "more important" clients, but the folks I work with feel "right" to me. For me, it's where the most interesting work is found and the opportunity to be part of helping others create a space for themselves matters.
But whenever I do take on a larger, more "mainstream" (and I'll let you read into the subtext of that) client, all the sudden I receive all kinds of validation from acquaintances. It's weird, and not something that explicitly bothers me anymore, but it's remarkable how folks nearly-universally assume that it's not by choice that I work with the sort of clients I do.
All that is to say, I very closely identified with the complexities of Anna's relationship with her career on a personal level and also on a macro level with regard to how as a woman, I feel like I'm constantly defending the things I like and care about to people who don't really matter.
I loved the subplot of Anna's meeting the dashing straight out of a romance novel Lincoln Mallory, who's just as messy as Anna once she scratches the surface. Anna's complicated love for her brother who's spiraling out of control made me straight-up teary. The evolution of Anna and Sasha's friendship and work relationship was the bomb dot com that reminded me how lucky we are when we're adults to find friends that we click with and who believe in us.
Literally my only complaint about Girl Before a Mirror is that Saoirse* was misspelled in my uncorrected galley. Like I said, I highlighted over 3,000 words of it on my Kindle--it's just that relevant to me. To me, Girl Before a Mirror is an important book, and I think it will be for you too.
*My dog is named Saoirse. The other one is named Ruairi. I have a thing for Irish names that are impossible to spell or pronounce phonetically.
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