#YAinMay – My Eyes Are Up Here by Laura Zimmermann

Welcome to #YAinMay, where every Monday this month, I review a Spring 2020 release. I’m sure that the current landscape isn’t what these authors could’ve predicted that their books would be published in, but as with everything else, all we can do is make it the best we can. 

In that spirit, the first book I chose is one I received an ARC of from Bookmarks, my favorite independent bookstore. I’m not sure how they chose to send me the ARCs that they did, but it must have been telepathically. There couldn’t have been a better choice for me. 

My Eyes Are Up Here is a June 23rd, 2020 release from Dutton Books, and is a “razor-sharp debut about a girl struggling to rediscover her sense of self in the year after her body decided to change all the rules.” 

Here’s the publisher’s summary: 

If Greer Walsh could only live inside her head, life would be easier. She’d be able to focus on excelling at math or negotiating peace talks between her best friend and . . . everyone else. She wouldn’t spend any time worrying about being the only Kennedy High student whose breasts are bigger than her head. But you can’t play volleyball inside your head. Or go to the pool. Or have confusingly date-like encounters with the charming new boy. You need an actual body for all of those things. And Greer is entirely uncomfortable in hers. Hilarious and heartbreakingly honest, My Eyes Are Up Here is a story of awkwardness and ferocity, of imaginary butterflies and rock-solid friends. It’s the story of a girl finding her way out of her oversized sweatshirt and back into the real world.

Warning:  I’m going to be discussing the book’s strong themes of body image and the objectification of young women, through the lens of my own experience. If that makes you at all uncomfortable, feel free to come back next week for a discussion on different topics. 

The first thing I want to say is that “hilarious and heartbreakingly honest” is the best descriptor there is for this wildly wonderful book. I don’t think I’ve read a book with that kind of comedically sarcastic voice in a long time. There’s a saying in writing that voice can’t be taught, but I think Laura Zimmerman could teach a seminar on the subject. In my mind, a strong voice comes from knowing the character inside and out. This book shows that Greer is known, seen, and beloved by the person who created her. All of the characters are. Jackson, the precious love interest that changes everything. Maggie, the best friend so filled with existential rage that she may or may not try to stage a mutiny over the school musical. Jessa, the volleyball player who’s trying to single handedly end Greer’s self-imposed ban on sports. Well, it’s not self-imposed, totally. It’s Maude and Mavis imposed. For those who haven’t read the back cover copy, those are the names of Greer’s breasts. Even just reading the back cover, this was where Greer had me. Even her explanation of the names later on in the book is hilarious. 

On a serious note, though, this was a smart move. In terms of body image, personifying the thing you hate most is a way to separate yourself from it. Greer does this because people don’t see beyond her chest, making it feel like that’s all she is. If she gives them names, and personalities almost, then they become less the dominating part of her, and more something that is entirely their own. 

Greer is fiercely intelligent, and she sees her femininity as detracking from that. Who could blame her, when her anatomy is a topic of conversation in AP Calc? It doesn’t matter that she aces everything. It doesn’t matter that she is the tie-breaker when the two smartest kids in class get different answers on homework. What matters is what she’s hiding under oversized grey fleece. That spirit is so relatable to so many young people, who have to overcome objectification to realize that they’re more than their bodies. 

I’ve done everything else Greer does over the course of the novel. Hiding under too-big clothes. Obsessing over how I’m being stared at. Hearing giggles around me and knowing exactly what they’re about. The general paranoia of feeling disproportionate and just completely wrong. It’s all there, and it’s all so, so real. 

This novel is such a timely example of how young women are objectified, and how jarring the experience of suddenly growing from scrawny to shapely is. It’s a weird and deeply personal time of transition, and I’m so glad to see it depicted in a YA novel. This story is so important, and I look forward to seeing it find the readership it’s destined to help. 

I give this book a well deserved six out of five stars. It’s already on the favorites shelf. 

You can pre-order My Eyes Are Up Here now! 

For reference, let me explain my rating system: 

  • 1 Star: Not for me. 
  • 2 Stars: Eh, it was okay. 
  • 3 Stars: Liked it. 
  • 4 Stars: Loved it. 
  • 5 Stars: Wouldn’t change a thing. 
  • 6 Stars: Going on the favorites shelf immediately. 

Come back next week for the next installment of #YAinMay!

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