Book Review: Big Mouth and Ugly Girl


Big Mouth and Ugly Girl by Joyce Carol Oates
HarperCollins (paperback), 2002
272 Pages

Author’s Website

Amazon (UK)

Hard-hitting, page-turning and celebratory of friendship in unlikely circumstances, Joyce Carol Oates’ sure touch with small town life hits home in her first young adult novel. Matt Donaghy is the class joker, and Ursula Riggs is the misfit loner. Neither knows the other. But when Matt is suddenly arrested on a charge of threatening to blow up the school and massacre the students, Ursula is the only one who sees through the hysteria and hypocrisy, and corroborates Matt’s story. The case is dropped, but Matt’s old friends avoid him, and his teachers treat him with kid gloves. Even Ursula, apparently his only friend during the crisis, can’t meet his eye. But Ursula can’t remain aloof when she catches Matt contemplating suicide – and a strange friendship is born.

It was an ordinary afternoon, a Thursday, when they came for Matt Donaghy.


Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favourite writers. There are a lot of her books I haven’t read so I’m working my way through them.

I thought Big Mouth and Ugly Girl was great. JCO works her magic on teenage angst and trauma. The story moves back and forth between Ursula and Matt. This works really well and I liked getting both their perspectives on what was happening. This book is heartbreaking and incredibly moving at times. I was shocked by what happened to Matt and the events that take place afterwards. My heart went out to Matt and Ursula. I thought Ursula was a great character, someone who isn’t afraid to speak out when they feel an injustice has been done. I found Matt and Ursula’s blossoming relationship very sweet. JCO hit the nail on the head with every sentence.

I’d highly recommend Big Mouth and Ugly Girl.




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