Danielle Levine goes to an alternative high school, but even there, she doesn’t feel as though she belongs. She’s got giant orange hair, a big body, and what her teachers and parents call a “unique learning profile.” Throughout the course of her senior year, Danielle does some major growing, and she documents it all (sometimes inappropriately) through essays for her English class. Over the course of the year, Danielle meets Daniel, another misfit who just might become her closest friend.
There are things that work in Lauren Roedy Vaughn’s debut, and there are things that are less successful. But what does work, works very well. In Danielle, Vaughn has crafted a memorable character with an authentic, oftentimes very funny voice. Danielle is funny, frank, and totally relatable.
Another great thing Vaughn presents in this funny mixed-media novel are the relationships Danielle has with the flawed, kind adults in her life. Danielle has a good relationship with her parents, who are supportive, and an even closer relationship with her quirky, vintage-shopping-obsessed aunt. Her relationship with her English teacher evolves over the course of the novel, too, which is fun to watch as a reader.
There’s a lot to love in Vaughn’s characters, which is what makes the book’s flaws harder to swallow. The first of which is fairly superficial, but has deep ramifications for readers. Throughout the book, Danielle agonizes over her “plus-size” body, lamenting the fact that she is a size 12 (but wait). In a later reveal, her aunt reminds her that she’s actually a size 8. All of this sends a very confusing message to readers, and specifically to teenage girls, who the novel is supposed to be for.
Look, this reader understands that much of this obsession is in the mind of Danielle herself and is supposed to indicate her body insecurities. But the fact remains that neither of the sizes–Danielle’s perceived one and her actual one–are actually plus size. Furthermore, this kind of body talk is incredibly triggering to readers who are insecure about their own size. This is definitely a case where specific sizes should have been left out of the narrative.
Perhaps the book’s weakest point is the big reveal about the underlying cause or catalyst of Danielle’s OCD. While this won’t bother all readers, it almost felt like too easy of an out for explaining Danielle’s mental illness. Something about this didn’t sit right with this reader.
Still, all in all, this was a funny, smart read. It’s guaranteed to find some fans, and Vaughn is definitely a fresh voice in the YA world.
OCD, the Dude, and Me by Lauren Roedy Vaughn. Dial: 2013. Library copy.