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Pizza Girl

Review

Pizza Girl

There is a particular nihilism found in some coming-of-age stories: a world-weariness, a disregard for self and safety, a distrust of societal norms. Jean Kyoung Frazier captures that sense of apathy and emotional drift in her debut novel, PIZZA GIRL. The book follows Jane, an 18-year-old pregnant pizza delivery girl who does her best to avoid the truth of her situation as she distances herself from her mother and boyfriend, spends her nights drinking alone, and develops an obsessive attachment to a middle-aged woman.
 
When PIZZA GIRL opens, Jane is just a few months pregnant and working at Eddie’s in her California town. Her father has been dead for about a year, and her boyfriend Billy has passed on a full academic scholarship to college in order to work full time and be with Jane and the baby. Their life at home is quiet, routine and simmering with a tension that Jane feels powerless to address, confront or even identify.

"Provocative and fraught, often bitter and sometimes sweet, PIZZA GIRL gives readers some tough crust to chew on and heralds a strong new voice in fiction."

Worried that she is turning into her alcoholic father, a man with whom she had a complicated emotional relationship and whose death she has yet to really grieve, Jane sneaks out at night to drink in the shed where he hid booze. Billy and her mother, Kayla, are over the moon about the baby, despite the family’s lack of resources and Jane’s lack of enthusiasm. Billy and Kayla conspire about the future, while Jane suppresses her fears, anger and confusion.

Delivering pizza gives her a glimpse into the lives of others: friendly couples, college partiers and the lonely. When Jenny calls in with a strange comfort-food order of a pickles and pepperoni pie, she also lets loose with an over-sharing rant that Jane finds intriguing. When she delivers the pizza, she is instantly attracted to Jenny, who comes across as open, authentic and forthright in her swinging ponytail and fuzzy slippers. Jenny invites Jane into her life through conversation, and they begin to attend motherhood support group meetings together.

As Jane’s weeks become punctuated by time with Jenny, she misses or ignores red flags, and her drinking increases. Jane disowns her own sadness and neglects the love she gets at home, giving Jenny all her attention. Even the loving characters are realistically imperfect, and that imperfection makes them compelling. Kayla is a hopeful Korean immigrant who stayed with a dangerously alcoholic husband, and Billy is a clingy orphan who puts a lot of pressure on Jane to be happy, even when he isn’t.

PIZZA GIRL is a character-driven book, and there is not a lot of action apart from one devastating scene of potential violence. It may be that Jane doesn’t change much by the end of the novel, yet she is a character worth knowing --- a young woman trapped by her own youthful, short-sighted choices and forces that she lacks the tools to contend with. Her apparent stagnation and paralysis are both frustrating and understandable, and Frazier treats her with far more care and compassion than Jane allows herself. The book is more witty than funny, and dark without being oppressive. Frazier’s tone is earnest and sincere, and Jane has a charming innocence even as she makes terrible decisions and pushes away people who love her in favor of continued self-harm.

Provocative and fraught, often bitter and sometimes sweet, PIZZA GIRL gives readers some tough crust to chew on and heralds a strong new voice in fiction.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on June 12, 2020

Pizza Girl
by Jean Kyoung Frazier

  • Publication Date: June 9, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • ISBN-10: 038554572X
  • ISBN-13: 9780385545723