Introverted and shy, 14-year-old Leah Nells has lived her life alone, with only books to keep her company. As she starts 9th grade, she finds herself lost within the complicated social universe of high school — especially when she falls in love with a boy from her class. Under pressure from her parents, her classmates,
and the whole noisy world, can she become the girl she wants to be?
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By LK Gardner-Griffie
Oct 15, 2009
"Painfully Shy: An Excellent Character Study - Part I" Have you ever been in a situation in which you have been uncomfortable? Where you don't know what to say? Or, when faced with a new task tend to panic? If you understand any of those feelings, think how Leah Nells feels, because every minute of every day is a struggle for her to get through. Not even comfortable spending time with her own mother and father, after all, they are probably going to ask her questions that she won't be able to answer, Leah lives a very isolated existence. And things are about to get worse. She is 14 years old and will be starting high school. She'll have to contend with a new campus, new classes, new teachers, and perhaps worst of all, more students. The thing Leah clings to are her books. Even the books Leah reads are different from the norm. She won't read novels, and tends to like lengthy, non-fiction books with very few pictures. For example, some of the titles Leah picked out were The... More > Little Book of Earthquakes and Volcanoes, The Biomechanics of Insect Flight, Attracting Birds to Your Backyard, and The Social Construction of the Ocean. Now, don't get any ideas about Leah being a top student, because she isn't. When she has read all of the books she has on hand, her mother will take her to garage sales and Leah can pick out any books she wants, and her mother will buy them for her. Or at least that's how things used to be. As she approaches high school, Leah's mother becomes more and more frustrated with her socially awkward daughter. It is her greatest wish that Leah fit in and make a friend or two. Her wish is so great, that she pushes Leah in ways that are in some respects cruel. For example, at the start of Leah, Leah and her mother are cruising garage sales, and at the last one they visited, Leah found a book she wanted and her mother handed her the money and told Leah she would wait for her in the car. Now Leah, thrown into an unexpected situation, was unable to cope with the expectation that she pay for the book instead of her mother, and was unable to face it, so she put the book down and returned to the car in shame. Her mother was upset that Leah couldn't make a simple purchase at a garage sale. Mrs. Nells clearly comes through as one of the biggest antagonists in Leah, and I'll admit that Mrs. Nells was the character I disliked the most in the book. I understand wanting her daughter to achieve more, and I understand Leah is a difficult child in many respects, but having a mother who has been my champion my whole life, I found Mrs. Nells animosity toward her daughter disturbing. “And leave Leah in her room. I don't want to see her right now." "Why not?" "I'm still upset with her." Leah sat back down on the stairs. "Because of what happened on Saturday?" Mr. Nells asked. "Partly. I know it's not the first time she's behaved like that, and it sure won't be the last time, but I just hate it when she's so difficult in public. I can't help but wonder what other people must think. Like I told her, she's fourteen already, but she still doesn't even have the courage to buy a book unless I'm standing right there holding her hand." "She'll learn. It'll take time, but she'll learn. She just needs some help." "Well," Mrs. Nells said with conviction, "I don't know who's gonna help her, but it's not gonna be me! I've had it with her. If she wants to hide in her bedroom forever, then that's fine with me. We've done all we can for her—it's up to her now."< Less
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