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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1158

Author: Gail Giles

First published: 2015

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Coming-of-age

Time of plot: Present day

Locale: Texas

Principal characters

Quincy, a young woman with intellectual disabilities who is cynical and wary of others

Biddy , a sweet, optimistic young woman with intellectual disabilities and Quincy's...

(The entire section contains 1158 words.)

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Author: Gail Giles

First published: 2015

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Coming-of-age

Time of plot: Present day

Locale: Texas

Principal characters

Quincy, a young woman with intellectual disabilities who is cynical and wary of others

Biddy, a sweet, optimistic young woman with intellectual disabilities and Quincy's roommate

Miss Lizzy, the woman who houses Biddy and Quincy in exchange for their help

Robert, one of Quincy's former coworkers who sexually assaults her

The Story

When Girls Like Us (2015) begins, special education classmates Biddy and Quincy do not like one another. Despite the fact that they both have intellectual disabilities, their personalities could not be more different. Where Biddy is optimistic and likes most people she meets, Quincy is cynical and often defensive. Despite these differences, the young women's lives become intertwined once they graduate from high school. It is then that they learn that their school counselor has arranged for them to live together in a house owned by an older woman named Miss Lizzy. In exchange for their room and board, Biddy will help Miss Lizzy with her cleaning, cooking, and physical therapy, while Quincy works at the Brown Cow, a local market.Copyright © 2014 by Gail Giles. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

At first, the women find the process of adjusting to their new lives at Miss Lizzy's to be a challenge. This is largely due to the fact that Quincy has a difficult time seeing the good in others and is quick to start arguments with her new roommates. Quincy had a traumatic childhood; when she was six years old, her mother's boyfriend hit her in the head with a brick. In addition to physically disfiguring her, the act of horrific violence also caused irreparable brain damage. Quincy lived in a series of foster homes after that, in which she experienced discrimination.

Meanwhile, Biddy likes Quincy and wants to win her over as a friend. Biddy's intellectual disabilities stem from a lack of oxygen at birth; she was abandoned by her mother and was raised by a cruel grandmother. Gaining Quincy's friendship is not especially easy for Biddy considering that Quincy calls her a "ho," a derogatory epithet that started in high school when her classmates learned that Biddy had become pregnant and had to give away the baby. Once Biddy stands up to Quincy, however, and demands respect, they begin to like one another. Their affinity deepens over time as they become more accustomed to the rhythms of their new lives. Quincy eventually comes to appreciate Biddy's talent for cleaning, as well as her optimism.

The young women's bond becomes truly unbreakable, however, when Biddy finds Quincy in an alleyway after she has been raped by a former coworker named Robert. Biddy comforts Quincy by sharing her own story of brutal sexual assault; when she was in seventh grade, she was raped by a group of boys and became pregnant as a result. Although she assures Quincy that Robert's attack was not her fault and that she should not feel guilty or ashamed, Biddy also claims that it is futile to tell the authorities. This is based off of her own experience; when she told her grandmother what those boys had done to her, her grandmother did nothing.

From that moment on, Biddy and Quincy become one another's protectors. Biddy walks Quincy to and from the Brown Cow every day so she does not have to fear running into Robert alone. When the woman who adopted her baby is disrespectful to Biddy, Quincy stands up for her friend. One day, Quincy sees Robert in the Brown Cow parking lot during her break. He threatens her, saying that he knows where she, Biddy, and the "old lady" live. Although she wants to run away, she realizes the best way for her to protect her friends is by telling Miss Lizzy the truth. To Quincy and Biddy's surprise, Miss Lizzy listens to the story with sympathy rather than judgment. She tells Quincy that although it is ultimately her choice, she thinks that she should tell the police about Robert's attack. Quincy agrees and the three of them go to the station, where she makes a statement. By working together to put their personal traumas and pain behind them, the three women go on to live happily together as a family.

Critical Evaluation

Girls Like Us is a unique work of fiction that is told from the perspective of two special education students. With the exception of Flowers for Algernon (1959), by Daniel Keyes, there are few novels that attempt to explore the world through the eyes of people with disabilities. The chapters alternate between narrators; first Biddy describes her impression of shared events and then Quincy follows with her perspective, or vice versa. Giles ensures that each young woman has a distinct voice; in addition to viewing the world in diametric ways, they also speak with their own unique grammatical style and tone. This is evident, for example, when they first learn that they are going to become roommates. For Quincy, this is bad news. "I was going to live with the other girl and have a job. I had me a bad feeling then. Why ole fat Biddy in the office too?" However, Biddy's outlook on the matter is much rosier. "We got in an adult program. We'll live in a little house. . . . That makes me feel all safe and good. We even got jobs!" Ultimately, Giles brings both characters to life by providing an unfiltered look at their inner thoughts and feelings.

One of the central ideas of Girls Like Us is that friendship plays an important role in generating self-acceptance. When the novel begins, Biddy and Quincy are both haunted by memories of physical and sexual violence. As special education students, they believe their lives are worth less than their peers without disabilities; so much so that Biddy tells Quincy not to go to the authorities about her rape because people do not care about girls like them. By helping each other overcome hardships, however, Biddy and Quincy learn of their own value. After Quincy was raped, Biddy tells her not to feel guilty or "dirty" because it was not her fault. Later, Biddy complains that she is too stupid to learn how to cook. Quincy replies, "If I ain't dirty, you ain't stupid." What makes Girls Like Us an especially powerful read is that the more these women discover that, despite their disabilities, they are human beings who deserve respect, so do readers.

Further Reading

  • Giles, Gail. "Inside Special Education: Gail Giles and Girls Like Us." Interview by Laura Olson. School Library Journal, 3 Dec. 2014, www.slj.com/2014/12/interviews/inside-special-education-gail-giles-and-girls-like-us/. Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.
  • Review of Girls Like Us, by Gail Giles. Kirkus, 31 Mar. 2014, www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/gail-giles/girls-like-us-giles/. Accessed 27 Feb. 2017.
  • Review of Girls Like Us, by Gail Giles. Publishers Weekly, 10 Mar. 2014, www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-7636-6267-7. Accessed 27 Feb. 2017.
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