That sentence can take on so many different appendages, don’t you think? Not the kind of girl who does drugs. Not the kind of girl who drinks alcohol. Not the kind of girl who has random one-night-stands. Not the kind of girl who believes in God. Not the kind of girl who knows what she believes.
What kind of girl is Carlene Bauer?
Not That Kind of Girl is an exploration into this question. These questions. Carlene was raised in an evangelical church, her faith handed to her by an increasingly devote mother who also loved music and taught her to do the same. Schooled in Christian schools, at church every Sunday, Carlene never questioned her faith, until high school and college. Studies broadened her world-view. To say Carlene struggles with her faith is putting it mildly and her fear of being found out by her family, her friends, of shaking the boat was palpable.
But I kept this all to myself around Heather and Jenny. I had made sure never to say anything about what they were doing because I knew I had no right to judge them, but they’d find me out. I thought that I had been the one watching and listening, observing teenagers being teenagers the way I used to watch jump ropes whipping before it was my turn at double Dutch; okay, okay, I want to get in there, I want to get in there, but I need to make sure I’m jumping in on just the right beat because if I don’t, I’ll bring the whole thing down with me, all of us laid out on the pavement tangled up in rope and all of it my fault, all of it because my timing and judgment were terrible. So I’d worked hard at not making a fool of myself. Just hold still, I told myself. Don’t make a noise, make a smell, make a scene.
As she becomes more and more educated, in college for an English degree, taking philosophical, where she meets Nietzsche and Marx, she begins to question her faith more and more. She envies those who don’t care and are free to do what they will with whomever they want. She also envies those who are Christian by choice.
I envied Jane because she had become a Christian of her own accord. It seemed to me that people who had to make a choice to believe in a household where no one else did had a truer faith than those who had been handed it at birth. They had been brave, they had been passionate. They had fallen in love.
This hovering between wanting to experience more of the world and her deep suspicion of it and what it wants of her finally comes to a head. When Carlene reaches her twenties that she decides it’s time to shake things up a little bit. I like the publishers description of what happens next.
In her twenties, however, determined to make up for lost time, Bauer undertakes a belated and often comic coming-of-age in New York City. Between late blooming at parties and staying late at work, it seems that she might become as bold as she’d hoped to be—even if the late blooming is a little more hapless than highly erotic. And yet the city and its pleasures do not distract her from another hope: that she might learn how to have a faith that she can truly call her own. Enter the Catholic Church, and a conversion. But then she falls in love, and loses her religion—which leaves her wondering just what it means to be good.
I really like Carlene. Reading this book feels like talking life, debating religion, speculating on the best music, clubs, love with your best friend over a nice cup of joe or a bottle of vodka. There are times it gets uncomfortably familiar; having grown up in the Bible Belt I know a lot of the feelings Carlene struggles with. I’ve struggled with them myself. Not That Kind of Girl is refreshingly honest, at times painful to read, and inspiring to anyone who has battled with their feelings about God, their desire to please their family and find acceptance and love in the world. Does Carlene keep her faith? Does she give up on God in favor of a world that makes more sense? You’ll have to read the book to see. Carlene Bauer is hilarious, witty, and will touch your heart and spirit. If you enjoy books like this, Not That Kind of Girl is not to be missed.
Not That Kind of Girl
Written by Carlene Bauer
Published by: Harper Perennial
On Sale: July 1, 2010
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