TJ Powar Has Something to Prove
TJ Powar Has Something to Prove
The people who think she’s pretty – they don’t know how much of her life is spent keeping up the image. Her best kept secret is her real body. But why can’t her real body be pretty too?
The thought has her pulling up Lulu‘s number. Instead of calling, TJ hits block.
Then she gets up and goes to the bathroom. She roots through her drawers and makes a pile of the razors. Shaving cream. Her thread. Her jar of wax. Her epilator. The old tube of hair-removal gel. Everything she can find, the floor is littered with items by the time she is done.
She puts it all into a bag. Then she lugs it out the back door in her flip-flops and throws it all into the outdoor garbage can.
She stands there, panting, waiting to feel satisfied, to feel freer, but all she feels is her toes going numb from the cold. This is useless. Throwing out all her stuff doesn’t prove anything. She could wake up tomorrow less brave and buy it all again. And she doesn’t want to go back to how it was. No. She’s done hiding.
The problem, of course, is that it’s so much easier to hide than face her greatest insecurity. What she needs is a way to force herself to commit.
And the idea comes to her, all at once.
She runs back inside upstairs to her room. Her debate bag is on her desk, where she left it, and she grabs it, dumping the contents on the bed. Her notebook pens and scoresheets from the last tournament clatter into the comforter, along with an unused package of cue cards.
She rips the package open and pulls out a blank card. Bracing it on her notebook, she taps a pen against her lips, trying to think of the right wording. It has to be convincing. It has to be firm. Finally, she puts her pen to paper and writes. A smile stretches of over her face as she does. This was definitely the way to go.
Because it’s a debate resolution. And like with all the best resolutions, she reads it and becomes it, instantly. She will go to absurd lengths to prove it. She will shoot down every opposing argument with evidence why her resolution must stand.
This House Believes That TJ Powar can be her hairy self and still be beautiful.
TJ Powar is in her final year of high school. She is a star on her school soccer team, has the hot boy on campus for a boyfriend, is a member of her school’s debate team and, by all reports, is drop-dead gorgeous. After her cousin and debate partner, Simran, is the target of a meme shaming her for her body hair, TJ begins to rethink her routine of hair removal and the message that sends to her classmates and the population at large. This ultimately leads to TJ setting herself a debate resolution that will compel her to follow through on her determination to prove that she “can be her hairy self and still be beautiful.”
Jesmeen Kaur Deo tells this story in the third person, a refreshing change from the navel gazing first person narrator popular in current young adult fiction writing. The reader is afforded an unvarnished view of TJ and the other characters. In fact, one of the most endearing aspects of this novel is our unfettered access to TJ’s complex personality, and we love her as she navigates the rollercoaster of grade 12. The secondary characters are also fully realized, notably her friends Chandani and Piper, cousin Simran, and her new love interest, Charlie. Using debate as plot driver is brilliant as it is a window into the complex thought processes and emotions of these teens.
The plot is brilliantly constructed. Deo keeps readers engaged, and the plot never stalls. Even when the final debating assertion is revealed and TJ and Charlie must argue against the resolution: “This House Believes That inner beauty is more important than outer beauty.” Deo masterfully turns this seemingly impossible position for TJ and Charlie into a treatise expounding equity in the eyes of society. The story ends on a hopeful note with TJ’s mending fences with Simran and Charlie, but it is not an unrealistic “happily ever after” ending.
Readers are moved with ease from the debate hall to Vancouver Island to Charlie’s bathroom. Kudos to Deo for setting this story in Canada (Kelowna, British Columbia).
Purchase TJ Powar Has Something to Prove for any library serving young adults. The honesty, fresh take on the topic of body shaming, bullying and self-worth and an unflinching look at what makes us human makes this a rare gem in YA literature.
Ruth Scales McMahon is a professional librarian working in a high school in Lethbridge, Alberta. She is a founding member of the Rocky Mountain Book Award Committee.