The Disturbed Girl's Dictionary

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 05 Mar 2018

Member Reviews

This book will resonate with many YA aged school kids. Many students can relate to the protagonist who has social and environmental cards stacked against her.
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Fierce and haunting, Macy Cashmere wields a sharply honed sense of humor to protect herself from her imperfect family—and an even less perfect world.*

* Picked at best debut novel for 2018 Latinidad List, my annual round-up of the best Latino books of the year.
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I wanted to love this one so very much. Macy’s story is a heartbreaking one, and sadly is far too common. But I found the actual story hard to follow at times.
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DNF; I couldn't get into this book. Sadly, I only made it through the first chapter. I really liked the premise but I found the writing confusing, characterization weak, and felt no connection to the story or characters to motivate me to keep reading.
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While I very much thank the publisher for the approval on this title, it was unfortunately not a good fit for me. I did, however, add it to Goodreads, so that others may see it and find it more in line with their tastes.
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This one will haunt you. Bleak, depressing, and sadly, realistic look at the life of an impoverished “ghetto” family. Not a feel-good story, but so very well written.
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This was a very interesting read.  I didn't know if i would enjoy this book when I started it.  By the end I really enjoyed this book.  It will make a great addition to our library collection.
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Ramos hits home and hearts with this novel of a realistic teenager and the challenges she faces daily. Macy has troubles at home, at school, with her peers, and most importantly with herself. How she handles the everyday is something everyone must read!
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I have so many feelings about this book—some that are conflicting—but let me start out by saying that this is a wonderfully diverse novel. It focuses on many topics that I personally have not seen much, particularly in the world of young adult fiction. I found it very hard to collect my thoughts both during and after reading this story because of the quantity of thought-provoking material that is present. While my overall opinions on and experience with this novel were somewhat mixed, that in no way means that I did not truly enjoy reading it.

In this novel, we follow a fifteen-year-old girl named Macy, who is chronicling her life through entries in her own personal dictionary. Macy has been classified as “disturbed” by everyone—including herself—but really, she is just a teenager trying to survive in a horrible situation. Her father’s in prison, her mother treats her terribly and is too busy having multiple affairs to think about the welfare of her children. Macy has little to no food to eat and only a couch to sleep on, and on top of everything, she has just lost her little brother to Child Protective Services. However, Macy is not going down without a fight, and she will do everything she can to prove that she can beat the odds, as well as protect the people she loves the most.

The plot was not at all what I had been expecting going into the novel. Personally, I thought this sounded as if it would be sort of a dark mystery/thriller type story. It is definitely on the dark side, given the nature of the subjects it addresses, but that’s about all that it has in common with what I predicted—it is more of a heartbreakingly realistic, fictional recounting of a person’s life and hardships. This came as a huge surprise, though a good one, as I thoroughly enjoyed the powerful and impactful story that I found within these pages. It took me quite a while to wrap my head around everything that occurred—in a good way.

My absolute favorite part of this novel are the characters—they are beautifully crafted. Whether lovable or despicable, there is absolutely no denying that each and every one is multi-dimensional and highly memorable. Macy is such a wonderful main character and narrator. Her personality is so distinctive and vibrant, and she is someone who is very easy to care about and root for—she is strong, badass, and just plain awesome. Also, out of all the other characters, George is the one that I adored the most.

Ramos uses a writing style that is both very unique and not commonly seen in literature. The uniqueness comes from Macy herself and her personal way of voicing her thoughts. She relates her story using very choppy sentences filled with grammatical errors. This fits her absolutely perfectly, and truly adds a great deal to the way Ramos depicts her. Macy’s views on life have a distinct peculiarity of their own, which also contributes to both the realism and charm of her character. 

On a technical level, the style used is most like a stream-of-consciousness narrative, as we follow the events of Macy’s life as they happen. Since Macy is narrating through entries in her dictionary, she is essentially writing out her train of thought. There is a very diary-esque feel to it, and her internal monologue is all over the place, another factor I found added depth and relatability to her as a character. 

I will acknowledge, the format in which this novel is presented—stream-of-consciousness coupled with grammatical inaccuracies—may not be the easiest to read. However, Ramos does a fantastic job with it, and the more you read, the better it flows. I thought this stylistic choice suited the novel extremely well—I loved it, and I cannot see any other type of narration relaying Macy’s story as perfectly as this does.

I’m still trying to collect all of my thoughts, partially due to the fact that some of the issues I had with the novel conflict with aspects that a loved. I believe that many of my complaints stem from the style of narration that is used. However, as I said before, that style was absolutely perfect and really brought Macy’s story to life in a way no other type of narrative could have. As you can imagine, this is causing me a lot of difficulty when it comes to reviewing the novel—but I will try my best to explain things as clearly as I can.

Let me preface this by saying that I have absolutely no personal experience with the types of trials and horrors that the characters in this novel have to face on a daily basis. And while I feel as though I learned a lot from reading this, I will never say that I can even begin to understand the pain of being in these situations. The fact that any person, especially a child, should have to deal with these struggles upsets me to no end, and I have the utmost respect for the strength and bravery people have even during the of darkest times.

There were a few times where I struggled to understand certain events in the narrative. Admittedly there were some occasions where it was extremely obvious that the problem was simply my lack of knowledge on certain topics and not at all the actual writing itself. But there were also a number of instances where I felt as though more detail needed to be used in order to clarify what had taken place. This could be explained by the narration style, since a person writing entries in a journalistic way is bound to be less descriptive. Nevertheless, there were times when I wasn’t able to explain what had just happened.

On the other hand, even when I felt unsure of what exactly was happening in a scene, Ramos did such a wonderful job of crafting her characters that it never fully detached me from the narrative. She conveys the emotions so clearly, I could always relate and comprehend on that level, thus allowing me to remain closely connected to everyone. So, while I wish I could have some clarity about those particular events, it was less of a detriment to the plot as a whole than it would have been in most situations.

I also understand that this narrative can be a bit hard to follow and therefore might be a slow read. That is due to both the stream-of-consciousness format—which can make everything feel jumbled and random—and the obvious grammatical errors in Macy’s writing. The main plotline can be a bit tough to find because, having that diary style, the plot is not going to be as linear. Personally, while I did read through this a bit slower that I normally might, I found all of these qualities to be incredibly fitting to the story and Macy’s voice.

One very minor detail—and by minor, I mean I’m just putting far too much thought into things like always—that confused me a bit was the timeline of the novel. It comes across as though Macy is writing each entry in alphabetical order as it happens, since we do follow somewhat of a connected storyline. However, she frequently references other entries in the dictionary, many of which haven’t happened yet. Like I said, this isn’t a huge issue by any means, it just made it a bit unclear to me how exactly events were progressing.

The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary is a book that I know is going to stick with me for quite a long time. It is an extremely eye-opening and powerful read that addresses many dark but incredibly important topics—ones that are hard to hear about but desperately need to be discussed. The realistic characters and vivid emotions really brought the events to life, and make this story an even more educational experience. I am so glad that I picked this up, and I very highly recommend giving this novel a read.
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I liked the formatting of this book. It was written like reading dictionary entries (sort of). It was a fun different style that kept me interested. I was really drawn to the characters. I love how they were all flawed in some way or another. Highly recommend it.
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Does this story have a point? At 35% I don't see it yet. What is this Macy chick so angry about? Is there even a plot here? Why does she curse teachers off, throw chairs and tables and doesn't get expelled? Is this a school for crazy kids and I don't know about it?

Oh yes, Macy is crazy, disturbed, has attention deficit disorder, was born in jail, is poor, and has parents that are physically and mentally absent. So of course her life is shit. Is she doing anything to change that? No. On the contrary, she takes advantage of her "mentally disturbed" status to tell teachers to fuck off and get away with anything. I do not have a problem with cursing but I haven't heard of a student cursing a teacher off and getting away with it. Oh! yes, Macy is sent to see the principal. Hmmm... how many times?

Macy has mental problems and she knows it so she acts extra ghetto because she knows that she can get away with shit.

I didn't like Macy at all. Maybe not everybody wants to do and be better in life. Maybe some people are perfectly happy living the shitty lives they got; well, this is the sense I got from Macy.

Not all books must have a happy ending either, but at least the story should move towards something. What is the point of this book? What is it that Macy wants in life? It's not clear yet; maybe it will be revealed towards the end of the book but I am not interested anymore. 

No, I did not connect with this one. DNF at 35% because there are other books out there about diversity, minorities, poverty, abuse and all that crap that make more sense than this one.

Thank you Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this title.
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Cannot review as it is a debut novel and I am on the Morris Award committee for 2019. I am grateful to have a read through Netgalley.
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Disturbed is the right word. Macy. . .George. . .Alma. . .Yasmin. . .Zach. . .  Even the fact that this is a personal "dictionary" that is sometimes sort of in alphabetical order and sometimes not is disturbing. The overwhelming need that these characters have for stability, compassion, love, clothing, shelter, food, sleep. . .disturbing ("see I for I don't want to talk about it).

Like Melinda in Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, and Samoana in Sia Figiel's Girl in the Moon Circle, Macy as the narrator is both too young for her age "cooties," and much too old. At some points, her street smarts and survival instincts show up as clarified rage, and at other times she is very naive, broken down, and pieced back together. 

In some ways I had a difficult time justifying her age to her actions, but I think that is what makes Macy believable as a character who hearts George and loves Alma and is unable to save anyone at the end, including herself. 

What is not disturbing is the very powerful cover. Since I read books on my reader, I do not often even see the cover until I am writing about the book, but this cover, with the tub that is both the safe space for Zach and Macy as well as their pirate ship with the broken part of the wall that looks like a sail actually makes a powerful last word to this book. I somehow feel lighter by looking at it, although I could not really say why.
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At first I wasn't sure how I felt about the structure of the book, but it very quickly felt right, that this was the best way for Macy to tell her story. Macy is a strong character (or maybe I mean "memorable" more than "strong"?) dealing with the problems in her life the best she can - the drugs, her mother, her brother's needs, her BFFs, school, being disregarded and diminished at school, and her father's incarceration. There were times when the situation felt stereotypical, but the voice always felt authentic and as though there were no other way to tell this life.

ARC provided by publisher.
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Picture me sitting with a slack jaw upon finishing this book as I try to grapple with everything that I've just read.  I had a slow start getting in to Macy's story because she references events that haven't yet happened and I was a little confused, but thing start to come together quickly.  Ramos does a masterful job of leading the reader slowly into the darkness of Macy's life.  We start with problems at school and her mother's many guests and Macy's ever-present hunger.  I get the picture quickly that things are not good and that Macy is a mess - although it's equally obvious that Macy is much smarter than her teachers give her credit for.  You can also see that hope is not lost for her because she is inquisitive and cares deeply for her brother and Alma.  But revelation by revelation we find out just how bad things are in Macy's world. One of the first scenes that showed (not told) me the state of her apartment was when Macy was cleaning it for the upcoming visit from CPS.  She'd referred to the general state of the apartment but the detailed description of all the work she put into making it as presentable as possible clearly illuminated just how bad her living conditions were.  We are slowly taken along as her already precarious world unravels and she is forced to deal with unfathomable situations without reprieve.  Macy uses whatever skills and tools she has to try to save what she can in her life - Zach, George, herself (as an afterthought), and Alma in a horrible, Sophie's choice decision.  I am blown away by this book and its impact on me.  I read a lot and am usually just moving on to the next title without thinking a whole lot about what I just finished.  So if I am still pondering a book days later, that's a winner.  I am trying to find a way to justify including it in my middle school collection but I think it's just a little too mature to get away with it which is a shame because so many of my students would (very sadly) identify with Macy's life.  And an equal number would have a window into a life different from their own but with a character with whom they can sympathize and maybe begin to have more empathy for others overall.

I have to say that despite how bleak a picture Ramos has painted here, I did not leave the book feeling depressed.  I was sad for Macy and the things she had to do and endure, but mostly I was in awe of such an amazing story, told so well.   I think it might be one of the most important books I've read.

Side note:  Other reviewers have mentioned Macy's nonstandard English as a reason they did not finish or enjoy the book.  But for those who are scared off by that, I will say that I have read many other books with way more slang and spelling differences than this one.  It should not be a problem to figure out what Macy is saying since most of the language variances are simple things like using an "f" at the end of words that end with "th".  So get over yourself and your insistence on a character using the Queen's English.
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I was lucky enough to receive this ARC on Netgalley for review.  Based on the description alone I was hooked.  I'm always drawn by books that deal with difficult situations, especially if there's a hint of mental issues - wow that sounds weird... well I always find them interested.  If I'm being honest though, I couldn't finish this book.  As much as I wanted to enjoy it, I just couldn't.  I decided to DNF (did not finish) the book at 30% completion.  Let me explain.

Macy always felt angry and it's never truly explained why.  I couldn't relate to her at all.  Everything felt unimportant to her, either by her saying it was stupid or brushing it off.  The only time you ever feel like she cares about anything is the slight sliver of moments where she is trying to get her friend, Alma, back.  The way Macy talked was driving me insane!  Like I said she was always angry and just the way she talked was causing me to constantly correct her - there is no such word as "maff".  I get that was a writing decision made by Ramos, but it was one that was causing me to dread reading the book.   There was very little other character introduction by this point.  We were introduced briefly to George and Alma, but I only got a small idea of who they are.  Alma was by far my favourite and more relatable character; however, I was still confused some of her decisions.  We were introduced to Macy's little brother at this point, who acts like a dog?? But I'm still not 100% sure why he was taken away by Children Protective Services.

However, on a positive note, Ramos' writing style is excellent.  I was pulled into the story at points and it was because of her story writing.  Honestly, when Macy would go into flashbacks, I found it the most interesting.  It was less about anger and more about telling the experiences that she had.  I wanted to know more about her life - which I'm sure would have happened if I could just get past Macy as a character.

Although I did decide to DNF this book, I do plan on giving it a try again later - maybe in the summer.  I'm really hoping I just wasn't in the mood for this kind of character/story.  This is solely based on the fact that in behind the obligation I was feeling about completing the book, I also felt intrigue, which I'm hoping was only drown out because I can be such a mood reader.  If I do pick it up and change my opinion of it, I will update this review.

At this point, I can not give it a rating since I decided not to finish it.
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My opinion of this book was sort of all over the place. At first I didn't love it. The protagonist's voice seemed more gimmick than genuine. Once I got a few chapters in I began to see the brilliance, the intent behind the vocal habits. She wields a shield of ignorance. And those odd patterns soften somewhat as the plot progresses. It's a book that keeps you constantly on uneven footing. I never knew how much of the narrative to actually believe. Is it over-sensationalized writing of the protagonist's own fictionalization of her story. Very readable but worth a look as it pushes us to consider issues of race, class, and judgement.
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An emotional read that me hard. I know that I have taught students who's home lives are similar. 
One of those wonderful window/mirror books that everyone needs to read, especially teacher's with students with emotional/behavioural "coding". 
I had no issues with the grammar mistakes, language , I loved the authentic style of writing and the voice it gave Macy. I loved Macy, she was funny, quirky and real.
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"We like two hands of the same clock. Always connected. Sometimes in our own space, but we always meet. Nothing without each other. At least I'm nothing without her."

Macy Cashmere (last name: MYOFB) is as "at-risk" youth as they come-- She's a racial minority, lives in poverty, comes from a very broken home, and is living with an emotional behavioral disorder (or 'disturbed' as she and others term it). With the cards stacked against her, Macy's every day life is just a series of endure and survive and carry on.

When we meet Macy, she has many things intertwining together that are causing her life to become complicated. Macy's younger brother, whom she adores, has been removed from the home by CPS, her father is incarcerated, her mother has no intentions of changing her lifestyle to better care for her child/children, and her best friend, Alma, who means the world to her (see quote above), is no longer speaking to her. What more could go wrong?!


This novel is written in a very interesting style and format. Written as a dictionary, Macy titles each entry with a word that means something to her life and journey. The grammar, spelling, slang-usage, and over-all vernacular match that of an adolescent living in poverty with a whole lot of grit and sass. This was very hard to get used to in the beginning, but I quickly adjusted and really admire the way that this showcases Macy's personality. 

And yall...  her personality is HILARIOUS.... 
"A bafroom stall? That's nasty. Ain't you never heard of McDonald's?"
"I stand there in my circle. But I'm not just a planet. I'm a star. I'm the sun and I burn like hell. Everybody needs me to shine, but I don't need them for nothing. I can look down on them but they can't look me in the eye. I burn. I burn because I'm mad. I'm mad enough to shine for the next zillion years. And you need me too. Love don't make this world go round. I do."

Macy is fierce, loyal, fearless, and headstrong. This girl has endured so many things during her short life that many could not even imagine. She has been forced to grow up in ways that a high school age student should not have to be experiencing already. Her heart beats for her younger brother and it is ripping her apart from the inside to know he is no longer with their family (and her mother does not seem to care). And this child's loyalty to her friends is so strong and admirable--even if she shows it in atypical ways sometimes. 

I loved that in the acknowledgements of this novel, Ramos states "Thank you, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for rescuing me from the Dead White Men's Literary canon, for awakening the voices and cultivating the soil for future works. Everyone needs diverse books, and we need them written by diverse writers now and forever." This was such a powerful statement and she did such a beautiful job of representing diversity and representing the underrepresented in this novel. We see racial diversity and witness Macy endure racial discrimination. We see poverty. We see incarceration and how the CPS system both breaks families and restores lives. Obviously mental illness is a huge player in this game and I really enjoyed some of snide remarks that Ramos sneaks into Macy's dialogue that are so very real and 'disturbing' in themselves---"I guess here in suburbia, Asperger's is in style. Obviously having a emotionally disturbed kid ain't."

And there was possibly even some diversity in the form of LGBQT(??). As I was reading, I got the sense many times that Macy was experiencing some revelations in her own sexual identity. There are a lot of outside factors (especially ones involving men) that shape the way that she acts toward her own body and men, but I felt like there was some internal transformations occurring as well. Maybe I am wrong... let me know your thoughts in the comments if you have read this title! I would love to know what you think. But there were definitely some small moments where the author shed light on some of the injustices that are seen with adolescents from the LGBQT population.

"A fifty-year-old woman who's written up kids we all know for bringing their mom's cocaine to school, stabbing someone in the eye with a pencil, giving five-dollar hand jobs in the parking lot, could not write up two girls in the restroom because she thought we were lesbians. 
That was too much for her."

If you read my blog, reviews, or know me in person, you probably already know that my heart and career are centered around working with middle school age students with emotional disabilities. This population often overlaps with minorities in both race and income, and I have had many students come through my classroom door that were part of the foster care (or group home) system. What I loved the most about this novel was that I could see the harsh realities and raw realism that was portrayed through Macy. I saw so many of my former students in her personality and the things she has overcome. Macy's story was not the first time that I have seen a child hate 3-day weekends because it meant that they had one extra day of not knowing where their next meal would come from or love school because they had heat, a roof over their head, and felt safe. 

I recommend this book to ANYONE... However, if you are an educator or work with at-risk youth in any way, this is a must read! Macy's voice is so realistic. She jumps off the page and slaps you in the face with a little dose of reality, which is something we all need in order to be able to fully understand the adolescents that we work with. You can gain so much insight from Macy and start to develop an understanding for the 'why's' for how she, as well as other students, may behave the way that they do. 

Trigger Warning(s): There are references (only) to sexual assault/rape. 

Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing me with a advanced DRC of this title in exchange for an honest review!

*Review also on Amazon. Will post link when approved.
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I need to start out by saying I did not finish this book. Not because I didn't want to, but because I could not. The description of this book made it sound different than what was actually portrayed in the book and the writing style was all over the place, childish, and the story line was very choppy. While the cover was appealing and the description was interesting, the story didn't add up. 

I tried hard to get into the groove of this book. Even after the first few chapters of wanting to put it down, I pushed through hoping the story would level out and it would become easier to read. It did not. I've read books that were in a diary type model, which this book is, but the style of the writing fell very short. It had a childish energy to it. Each chapter seemed to be in a different place and nothing stayed flowing smoothly. I also found the unnecessary swearing a huge turn off. I understand that teenagers swear, but the number of curse words in this novel on a per chapter basis was a negative aspect. I would not encourage any teenagers to read this with that amount of foul language. 

I always encourage readers to read a book for themselves and see how they feel about it and this is no different. Just because I don't enjoy this novel does not mean someone else won't. Check it out and I'll check out Ramos' next novel to see if I enjoy that one.
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