The Law of Tall Girls, by Joanne Macgregor

Main character and narrator Peyton Lane is tall—almost 6’1”—and fed up with the fact that everyone asks her lame questions such as “What’s the weather like up there?” or “Do you play basketball?” and the like. Even more upsetting is that some much shorter girls date tall boys, essentially taking them away from tall girls like her. That causes her to proclaim the titular set of laws.

I picked up this book because, as a father of teenage daughters, I’m always on the lookout for YA books with themes of self-acceptance. With this basic premise, I figured that The Law of Tall Girls would provide a realistic look at someone learning to like and live in their own skin. Let’s face it, high school is already an awkward time period for most, so I was intrigued to read about it from the point of view of this character and follow her journey of self-discovery.

The story starts right before her senior year when Peyton, enduring constant height-fueled mockery from two of her coworkers at a local diner, bet her that she can’t go on four documented dates including the prom with a guy taller than she is. I was bothered at first by how terrible these two characters came across (more on that later), but I’ve read enough YA books and seen enough teen movies—immediately the 80s film Can’t Buy Me Love and the 90s film She’s All That came to mind—that as a jumping off point, this YA trope works fine.

So Peyton barters with a stoner guy who can get dirt on anyone to compile a list of guys in the school that are taller than she is, and she starts going on dates with some of them. Even though some of them came across as one-dimensional (more on that later), the interactions were humorous and they advanced the plot.

And then there’s Jay Young, cast in the role of Romero in the school’s student-directed modern-day adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Though not originally cast as Juliet, through the kind of coincidences (but still incorporating the book’s theme) that only happen in YA stories, Peyton ends up in the role. As a high school drama director, I laughed both at the inner workings of a drama club’s that were shown with pinpoint accuracy and the few that were a bit too outlandish.

But this is where the book picks up its stride, as the relationship that develops between Peyton and Jay is believable. It’s not insta-love, it brews, and it’s a really sweet (and at times sizzling) depiction of high school dating. Jay is more than the standard knight-in-shining-armor type character, as he has depth to him. Yes, he’s sweet and attractive and noble and a great actor, but he also displays some vulnerability, which makes him feel real and one of my favorite characters in the book, second only to his older sister Jack, who I wish there was more of.

So this is a YA book, and based on the films I mentioned above, it’s obvious that Peyton’s secrets (the bet, the list, etc.) will be revealed. I won’t go into spoilers about how Peyton is ultimately exposed, but it was fully predictable with some twists that subverted that for me. It happens at the appropriate point in the story and at the right climactic point in the length of the book, but it causes a slight imbalance in the progression of her senior year. A majority of the book focuses on her first semester so events in the second semester, particularly the fallout of that reveal, felt a little rushed.

I can’t review this book without mentioning Peyton’s relationship with her parents. They’re divorced, and she’s living with her mother who is dealing with a particular affliction (won’t spoil it). Yes, divorced and flawed parents are more YA tropes, and I thought at first that Peyton was uncharacteristically and unnecessarily harsh to hear mother. But as that was revealed, I found it to be believable as well, and as I thought more about it, I began to appreciate the structure of this book even more.

I mentioned earlier that some of the characters came across as very one-dimensional, particularly early in the book. This would normally cause me to give a book a lower rating. However, remember that this book is narrated in first-person point of view. Thus, the reader only sees the world filtered through Peyton’s lens, and at the beginning, her worldview was narrow—everyone only saw her as tall. By the end of the book, she has experienced a drastic shift in her perception of things, most notably herself, which is ultimately the important takeaway of the book. Likewise, we don’t see how certain details, particularly with her mother, are addressed because Peyton doesn’t see them. Those may be important details if this were real life, but this is Peyton’s story, and her growth is clearly shown. There’s a beautiful passage in the penultimate chapter that says and shows it all.

In closing, there are several YA tropes and clichés at play, but some are disarmingly upturned. The book may end with too predictable a bow tying things up, but again, this is YA romance. Where it really counts—in the important relationships, especially Peyton’s relationship with herself—is where the book really stands tall, and The Law of Tall Girls sews up its FOUR AND A HALF STARS.

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The Law of Tall Girls is available at Amazon.

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