Books by State: Illinois

Downers Grove by [Michael Hornburg]
Downer’s Grove by Michael Hornburg

“Downers Grove is the haunting and tender story of Chrissie Swanson, a high school senior for whom graduating has become a matter of life or death. She’s an unusual girl in an ordinary town. But when jocks are out to destroy her life in increasingly unsettling ways, and her high school seems to be cursed with a series of untimely deaths, you can’t blame her for being a little paranoid. Meanwhile, her mother’s sex life is overshadowing her own; her brother never leaves the basement; and her best friend Tracy is hornier than a Prince song—all of which leaves her eccentric grandmother as the only source of wisdom in a rapid downward spiral.

As Chrissie tries to take control of the events that shape her life, she finds the events taking control of her, until she is finally cornered by choices with everlasting consequences. Full of humor, wit, and the sacrilegious worldview of a savvy teenager, Downers Grove paints a searing portrait of the American dream in all its broken glory.” – Amazon’s summary

There is so much about Chrissie that was relatable to me – her analytical, somewhat overthinking, mindset; her slightly nihilistic views; her tendency to give all of her heart at once. I immediately respected her due to her poetic musings of her world as well as how she stood up for herself against the asshole jock near the beginning.

There were of course other things about her situation that I personally found questionable. A big one being a relationship with a 26 year old despite her being a senior in high school (MAJORLY sketchy!!!). I also found the amount of secret rendezvous and drug and alcohol use a bit excessive, but I can admit that my high school experience was probably much more tame than others.

I was expecting the curse of the senior classes of Chrissie’s high school to be more prominent in the story, but it was only mentioned a handful of times throughout the story. It became more of a paranoia angle with Chrissie, and it was able to be used as an excuse for the final climax. I was expecting her classmates to end up dropping like flies, but the curse never became the focal point of the action. All the action centered around Chrissie – her crush on the older mechanic dude, her mother’s tumultuous relationships, her quest to come to terms with her father running away, her brother’s fascination with oblivion, and her own fears for her future. I see that it makes more sense this way; Chrissie being our narrator, and Chrissie being a teenager, she sees the world as something attacking her. She often can’t see past her own problems and fears, but she has moments of very good insights into the people around her (normally these insights end up coming back around to her relationship to that person though). I wouldn’t necessarily say Chrissie believed the world revolved around her, but we all have some trouble looking at the world objectively, disconnected from ourselves or our roles in it, especially when we are teenagers.

Chrissie perhaps had to grow up too fast, what with her parents having been on shaky ground for quite a while before splitting and her brother damaging himself before her eyes, she was trying to take on the role of the responsible one who could fix everything. Or, failing that, she could at least make a better life for herself by knowing what to avoid in order to not end up how her family ended up. The big decision she made about her future at the end of the story I believe to have been a big win for her. She put herself and her future first, using her logic above her heart, which isn’t an easy thing to do. Just another thing I admired about her.

Chrissie’s senior year was way more exciting and eventful than mine, but her narration was spot on. I think this would be an even better read for people currently in high school, but I believe everyone could learn a little something from Chrissie.

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