The Measure of a Woman
(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaway program.)
By all outward appearances, high school junior Tabassum “Tabby” Deniz Karim has it all. Pretty, popular, and outspoken, Tabby isn’t lacking in friends – or boy toys. She has not one best friend, but three in “the BeBes” (Boss Tabby, Booty Connie, Bitch Marissa, and Beast Kiki). Her father and stepmother Song are both successful accountants, able to afford a home in the “good” part of Miami and send their daughter to private school. A student at Miami Beach Magnet School of the Arts, Tabby channels her outgoing personality into creative pursuits; she’s a talented and ambitious actress who’s already perfecting her autograph in anticipation of future stardom. And she has a head full of thick, curly, glossy, romantic, waist-length hair.
But under that glorious mane of keratin hides a dysfunctional home life and painfully low self-esteem. Caught in the middle of a hostile divorce, Tabby’s father is cold, inattentive, and emotionally available, while her mom is neglectful to the point of abuse. (And also possibly alcoholic.) Tabby’s half-sister, Caridad, seemingly subsists on a diet of bite-sized candy bars, and every time she stays with her mother and Cari, Tabby spends much of her visit cleaning the filthy condo and bathing her equally filthy sister. Meanwhile, her stepmother is expecting, and Tabby fears that the new baby will eclipse her into invisibility. Mortified by her home life and desperate to keep up appearances, Tabby doesn’t confide in her besties, which only fuels her feelings of alienation and loneliness.
Tabby’s carefully cultivated self-image comes crashing down when a lice scare results in an unwanted, neck-short haircut. In order to regain some control over her life, she sets out to exact revenge on those responsible: Mrs. Fuller, who misdiagnosed her dandruff as lice; her father, who forced the haircut on her; and Heather, Tabby’s virulently racist ex-best friend, who pounces on the opportunity to rub the “boy” cut in Tabby’s face.
Naturally, Operation Revenge backfires spectacularly: Kiki (who also just so happens to be black) is accused of stealing Mrs. Fuller’s phone, and when Tabby comes clean to Mr. Karim about handing his bank statements over to her mother, she finds out that the money in question was earmarked for her college fund. Though Tabby feels bad for spiking Heather’s hat and comb with itching powder, I don’t think anyone could fault her for broadcasting Heather’s racist tirade over the school PA. Heather’s only lucky she was allowed to withdraw rather than being expelled – bullying and hate speech should not be tolerated in any schools, public or private.
“All I can think about is hair.” More than any other sentence, this accurately and succinctly sums up the main plot. Tabby’s hair is constantly at the forefront of her mind, and I don’t mean just literally: she lives, eats, and breathes her hair. Most likely the constant hair-talk is meant to convey the importance of Tabby’s hair to her self-identity. And I get it, I really do: I went most of my childhood refusing to cut my hair, despite my mom’s tearful begging. (It took a good hour to wash, comb, and blow-dry each night. Once it got tangled up in the hairdryer and I insisted that we disassemble the damn thing rather than cut off an inch of my hair.) But it gets rather tiresome after awhile.
As an adult, I style my hair more for comfort than self-expression. And yet I sympathized – painfully, viscerally – with Tabby when her hair was chopped off, unceremoniously and without her permission. I understand how traumatic that might be, especially for a young woman who’s spent years growing out her locks. It is a terribly raw and emotional scene, and Tabby’s need for revenge is understandable. Even just, in Heather’s case.
Underneath it all, Snip, Snip Revenge is less about hair than it is a neglected kid trying to regain some semblance of control over her life.
While I enjoyed the story overall, many of the characters are difficult to like – especially our heroine Tabby. It’s a fine line between brash and bubbly and just plain obnoxious, and Tabby doesn’t always navigate it all that well. Heather is just straight-up vile, and most of the adults seem absent, if not incompetent or downright aggressive.
Tabby’s attitude toward would-be love interest Michael is troubling. For most of the book, the romance is of the will-they-won’t-they variety, with Michael’s sexuality being a topic of much scrutiny. When Tabby reaches the (premature, uninformed) conclusion that he’s gay, she turns into a veritable MRA, becoming angry at his supposed betrayal and ‘mixed signals’ (“he tricked me”) and eschewing his friendship because she has “plenty of gay friends” and doesn’t need any more. (She really should replace that skullcap with a fedora, mkay.)
Likewise, while racist speech is employed (mostly in the form of Heather) in order to condemn it, many of the characters frequently use gendered slurs (“bitch”) and engage in slut-shaming – but this behavior is never called into question.
And the Rosa Parks thing? It’s a bit much.
To be fair, Tabby exhibits quite a bit of growth by the end of the book, but not nearly as much as I’d like – and the misogynist speech is allowed to stand, unchallenged.
Incidentally, all of this transpires during a “cold snap” – which, in Florida, means lows in the 40s and highs in the 50s and 60s. This resulted in some pretty ridiculous behavior that had this native New Yorker rolling her eyes: students layering up with tights under jeans and multiple sweatshirts; kids missing days of school because they didn’t want to wait for the bus “in the cold.” Seriously? Does this really happen, Floridians?
3.5 out of 5 stars, rounded up to 4 stars where necessary.