By Elizabeth Wroten
Middle Grade Review: Bad Hair Day by Adrienne Vincent Sutton
On 17, Aug 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Gabby McGee is a 12-year-old girl trying to shed her “bad hair,” her parent’s strict rules, and her insecurities—all at the same time. If only she could change her hair from nappy, kinky, and unruly, to straight, long, and flowing, she could finally fit in. But she soon learns that going behind her mother’s back to get a chemical hair relaxer isn’t the way to do it. After a failed trip to the hair salon leaves her in debt, she devises a hair-brained scheme to pay it off, which involves her crush, a French kiss, and a bake-off. Is it just crazy enough to work? Is changing her hair really what she wants? Or, could the money troubles of a classmate at her snooty private school cause her to change her attitude instead?
So hair and hair angst is a theme I see a fair amount of in books written for black girls and it unfortunately stems from girls feeling a need to conform to white beauty standards. A lot of picture books tackling this issue work hard to show girls that their hair is fine exactly as it is. But that’s not going to work in a chapter book. It’s not nuanced enough.
Bad Hair Day was an incredibly fun read and added that nuance needed to flesh out a middle grade novel dealing with how girls feel about natural hair. I had a hard time putting it down as Gabby worked herself deeper and deeper into a silly, and poorly thought out, plan to straighten her hair. It rang so true for the shenanigans that middle schoolers get themselves into as they try to act more adult than they are.
I enjoyed reading a book that featured primarily black characters with a black girl as the main character that was funny, not tragic. While I think Gabby is clearly black, I also think we see stories like these featuring white girls all the time. As always, it’s refreshing to see black girls taking the lead in a light-hearted, fun read.
I do have two complaints about the book. There are a fair number of typos in it. They’re minor, but they’re there. The other is that, while I like the idea behind the design on the cover, the font in the hair is kind of hard to read which might deter readers who are choosing purely on seeing the cover. I think these are minor and shouldn’t deter you from putting this one on your shelves.
A final thoughts, before you write this off as a book for black girls only (I see you librarians and teachers out there skimming over on this review!), it’s not. Besides giving non-black girls a window into this particular issue their peers are struggling with, it also gives them a mirror. The beauty standard doesn’t fit most girls, black or not. And even girls who technically do fit the narrow standard often have a lot of hatred for their own hair and looks. Everyone will enjoy the book for its message of self acceptance and for the hilarity that ensues when Gabby makes a mistake and has to find a way out. Be sure to purchase this one for girls who like light reads about funny social situations.