The Nicest Girl by Sophie Jo

Published by UCLan Publishing

THE Nicest Girl is a book about and for the kind of people who don’t think a book could really be for them.

It’s a story of both growth and self-acceptance about refusing to fade into the background of your own life and overcoming issues with people-pleasing.

In this way it feels like both a fictional story and an instructional guide. As the main character’s journey progresses, the reader is given the space to reflect on their life, on the influences that cause their decisions and confront a possibility for change. The lessons presented are so impactful, largely because we see them through the eyes of a character in the midst of learning, destroying any possibility of a patronising tone and allowing instead a sense of comfort and hope.

It’s the end of summer and Anna Campbell is going back to school for her final year and yet nothing seems to have changed about her life and the way others see her.

We find her as she begins to wonder how she ended up always being the girl people rely on, always the first asked for favours, kept up late at night talking her best friend Marla through the latest relationship crisis … over and over, unable to say no.

Despite always having a busy schedule and doing almost every household chore for her father, the word no gets caught in her throat and refusal to help someone builds in her mind to a personal betrayal. She grows to resent it and gets tired of always taking care of others rather than herself. It seems to be a cycle. Anna imagines a version of herself that is strong and secure, able to manage priorities and tell people the truth about her needs rather than constantly looking to meet theirs.

This person seems distant until the school year starts up and the fresh responsibilities pile on. Marla is yet again consumed by jealousy over a girl her boyfriend Carl has spoken to and Anna must repeat lines of advice she’s heard herself say and watched Marla ignore, time and time again. She hears herself agree to small favour after small favour until they stop seeming so small and start to seem like everything. She wonders what her identity would be without this.

Would she matter to others, to herself even, if she stopped doing everything they asked?

The narrative follows her through her search for the answer to this question and the version of herself she imagines when it gets to be too much.

This is a book that handles some of the questions of life people struggle to make the leap to discover about when “nice” becomes “too nice”, how to retain kindness in the face of fighting a detrimental people-pleasing instinct and the balance of doing so.

The first-person narration from Anna feels conversational and intimate yet mysterious. She shows that it is too easy to see yourself simply as what you do for others, and ensures young people do not have to be lost or alone in their search to express so much more.