The Whole Stupid Way We Are
Insulting as the title may seem, it’s fair. Just as humans can be loving, incredible, unstoppable forces, we can also be mind-blowingly, impossibly, insanely stupid. In THE WHOLE STUPID WAY WE ARE, N. Griffith explores the ordinary reality of human existence through the eyes of a couple of teens, Dinah and Skint. But of course, like all human lives, it’s so much more complex than that. As the two struggle to retain the normalcy of their friendship even as Skint’s life is falling apart, the disconnect between the lives they’ve led and the gravity of what Skint is facing now grows ever more vast.
"Griffith skillfully builds and then unravels a long-term friendship between two social outcasts. And she does so realistically, surprising for a genre that often features main characters who are wise far beyond their years and mature to a fault."
Dinah and Skint have been best friends for a long time. But for Dinah, it turns out that even a long time isn’t proving long enough. Especially when your best friend’s dad has been losing his memory to dementia for a while now, and his mom is viciously incapable of handling the pressure anymore. Or when your best friend wants to rearrange the world order by stealing from the haves and giving to the have-nots. Or even, sometimes, when your best friend just won’t wear a coat. In winter. In Maine.
Even though she doesn’t understand exactly what is causing Skint’s refusal to abide by the rules that governed their lives up to this point, Dinah feels that she must do something to make things better. The question, then, is what. Shockingly, dreaming up schemes of sending care packages to cold-looking neighbors and watching donkeys dance is no longer relevant to Skint. Without knowing why, Dinah realizes that she can no longer engage Skint in her fanciful play-world. But does she realize that to maintain their close relationship she’ll have to accept the harshness of the world he sees as real?
Griffith skillfully builds and then unravels a long-term friendship between two social outcasts. And she does so realistically, surprising for a genre that often features main characters who are wise far beyond their years and mature to a fault. The dialogue between Dinah and Skint is often amazing in its weirdness, and their interactions can make you squeamish in their awkward adolescence. Somehow, Griffith has managed to retain an incredibly intact memory of that time. Though it is continually suggested that Dinah and Skint are in some way romantically interested in one another, Griffith does not bring that to the fore. And what a relief! So much of an adolescent friendship between two different sexes is determining how to express affection appropriately and honestly, and the way Dinah and Skint interact is miraculously telling of this effort.
And when Skint will no longer participate in the dream that Dinah has so painstakingly created for the two of them, we have to forgive both of them for their imperfections. Dinah may be intentionally shielding herself from more the difficult parts of life and Skint may be acting irrationally, but it is, after all, just THE WHOLE STUPID WAY WE ARE.
Reviewed by Rebecca Kilberg on December 21, 2012