Review: Why I Let My Hair Grow Out

Why I Let My Hair Grow Out by Maryrose Wood

How I got this book is also how I met my neighbor, Kathy, a fellow book lover. I was reading The Children of the Sky on our floor’s lounge and nodded off—when I woke up, she was on the couch beside me, reading. We got to talking about books and ended up exchanging books. She lent me Why I Let My Hair Grow Out and I lent her Glow. I said I’d read it over Thanksgiving, but it actually took me until the beginning of December to pick it up. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for it, and I really hope that doesn’t affect our future as bookish friends.

Why I Let My Hair Grow Out follows sixteen-year-old Morgan, an American teenager trying to recover from a nasty break-up with her boyfriend, Raphael. Unfortunately, Morgan’s coping techniques (including shaving her head and dying it tiger stripes) alarm her parents, who decide that she needs a change of scenery and send her off for a two week bicycle tour of Ireland. Once there, Morgan hates every minute of it (except hunky tour guide Colin)—until she gets knocked out and wakes up in the distant, mythic past, where her hair is long and everyone thinks she’s the goddess Morganne who can break the enchantments that torment them. What’s a girl to do?

Why I Let My Hair Grow Out ought to be a middle grade book. The writing is efficient, the humor is a bit immature (and this is coming from someone who makes immature jokes every Wednesday night at eight o’clock for two hours), and the pacing goes at an even clip. It’s easy to read and not very taxing. But what keeps it from being a middle grade book is the content. There’s plenty of cursing to go around (Morgan seems to pick up the Irish “fekking” within seconds of landing on the Emerald Isle) and Morgan spends a night trying to get into Colin’s pants, which eventually works until he discovers that she’s sixteen instead of eighteen. It just seems to be oddly situated in a no man’s land between middle grade, which it’s structured after, and young adult, which the content fits neatly into. It’s awkward in that sense.

Compounding this is Morgan herself. To put it lightly, I did not care for Morgan. She’s surly, envious, and looks at every woman who crosses her path as a potential threat, particularly Heidi, another woman on the tour. I can deal with teenagers being teenagers, but Morgan has problems with seeing other women as human beings unless they’re younger than her or significantly older. It sent chills down my spine, quite frankly. She was also not very funny, in the vein of Conor from Shadowmagic; hip in a dated way and cracking jokes that those in the past won’t get at all. Morgan does get better (that’s the point) and the novel does point out that she has a particularly bad attitude, so we’re not supposed to root for her all the time. But she’s such a vicious and angry little thing that it’s very hard to root for her at all. (I’d say something about believability when it comes to her partying behavior, but I don’t find it believable in real life, so that’s neither here nor there.)

The book more or less takes advantage of its Irish setting—there’s the obligatory “craic/crack” joke (I’m not sure why I find that so tiring, but I do), but it does explore, through Colin, the tension between the idea of Ireland as a romantic country and the idea of Ireland as a modern country. And the cultural differences are handled well. When Morgan attempts to seduce Colin, for instance, she discovers that a pub isn’t the equivalent to a bar. I haven’t talked about Morgan’s second life because, quite frankly, it’s not very interesting and Wood can’t seem to make up her mind if it’s Morgan hallucinating (everyone on the tour has an equivalent in the past) or if it actually happened (her meddling in the past results in Riverdance now being a tango troupe). She just generally wanders around, cracks bad and dated jokes that only she will get, and occasionally helps out. It’s just… eh.

Bottom line: Why I Let My Hair Grow Out is awkwardly situated between middle grade (in terms of structure and writing) and young adult (in terms of content) and the surly protagonist (who has issues with relating to other women as people rather than as sexual competition) is hard to root for. It’s just… eh.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

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