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Blueprints for Building Better Girls: Fiction

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Elissa Schappell's Use Me introduced us to a writer of extraordinary talent, whose "sharp, beautiful, and off-kilter debut" (Jennifer Egan) garnered critical acclaim and captivated readers. In Blueprints for Building Better Girls, her highly anticipated follow-up, she has crafted another provocative, keenly observed, and wickedly smart work of fiction that maps America's s Elissa Schappell's Use Me introduced us to a writer of extraordinary talent, whose "sharp, beautiful, and off-kilter debut" (Jennifer Egan) garnered critical acclaim and captivated readers. In Blueprints for Building Better Girls, her highly anticipated follow-up, she has crafted another provocative, keenly observed, and wickedly smart work of fiction that maps America's shifting cultural landscape from the late 1970s to the present day. In these eight darkly funny linked stories, Schappell delves into the lives of an eclectic cast of archetypal female characters—from the high school slut to the good girl, the struggling artist to the college party girl, the wife who yearns for a child to the reluctant mother— to explore the commonly shared but rarely spoken of experiences that build girls into women and women into wives and mothers. In “Monsters of the Deep,” teenage Heather struggles to balance intimacy with a bad reputation; years later in “I’m Only Going to Tell You This Once,” she must reconcile her memories of the past with her role as the mother of an adolescent son. In “The Joy of Cooking,” a phone conversation between Emily, a recovering anorexic, and her mother explores a complex bond; in “Elephant” we see Emily’s sister, Paige, finally able to voice her ambivalent feelings about motherhood to her new best friend, Charlotte. And in “Are You Comfortable?” we meet a twenty-one-year-old Charlotte cracking under the burden of a dark secret, the effects of which push Bender, a troubled college girl, to the edge in “Out of the Blue into the Black.” Weaving in and out of one another’s lives, whether connected by blood, or friendship, or necessity, these women create deep and lasting impressions. In revealing all their vulnerabilities and twisting our preconceived notions of who they are, Elissa Schappell, with dazzling wit and poignant prose, has forever altered how we think about the nature of female identity and how it evolves.


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Elissa Schappell's Use Me introduced us to a writer of extraordinary talent, whose "sharp, beautiful, and off-kilter debut" (Jennifer Egan) garnered critical acclaim and captivated readers. In Blueprints for Building Better Girls, her highly anticipated follow-up, she has crafted another provocative, keenly observed, and wickedly smart work of fiction that maps America's s Elissa Schappell's Use Me introduced us to a writer of extraordinary talent, whose "sharp, beautiful, and off-kilter debut" (Jennifer Egan) garnered critical acclaim and captivated readers. In Blueprints for Building Better Girls, her highly anticipated follow-up, she has crafted another provocative, keenly observed, and wickedly smart work of fiction that maps America's shifting cultural landscape from the late 1970s to the present day. In these eight darkly funny linked stories, Schappell delves into the lives of an eclectic cast of archetypal female characters—from the high school slut to the good girl, the struggling artist to the college party girl, the wife who yearns for a child to the reluctant mother— to explore the commonly shared but rarely spoken of experiences that build girls into women and women into wives and mothers. In “Monsters of the Deep,” teenage Heather struggles to balance intimacy with a bad reputation; years later in “I’m Only Going to Tell You This Once,” she must reconcile her memories of the past with her role as the mother of an adolescent son. In “The Joy of Cooking,” a phone conversation between Emily, a recovering anorexic, and her mother explores a complex bond; in “Elephant” we see Emily’s sister, Paige, finally able to voice her ambivalent feelings about motherhood to her new best friend, Charlotte. And in “Are You Comfortable?” we meet a twenty-one-year-old Charlotte cracking under the burden of a dark secret, the effects of which push Bender, a troubled college girl, to the edge in “Out of the Blue into the Black.” Weaving in and out of one another’s lives, whether connected by blood, or friendship, or necessity, these women create deep and lasting impressions. In revealing all their vulnerabilities and twisting our preconceived notions of who they are, Elissa Schappell, with dazzling wit and poignant prose, has forever altered how we think about the nature of female identity and how it evolves.

30 review for Blueprints for Building Better Girls: Fiction

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly Faith

    This collection is lit gold. Elissa Schappell writes about contemporary women so successfully. These girls really suffer. And the boys! Schappell's fate hand is cruel and yet these girls/women muster it all: courage, shame, humor, grace, guilt, and compassion. The stories are interconnected and so there are some heartbreaking unspoken connections the reader can discover, ghostly underpinning. A rape brought up close in one story is referenced in another from the perspective of a friend who can't This collection is lit gold. Elissa Schappell writes about contemporary women so successfully. These girls really suffer. And the boys! Schappell's fate hand is cruel and yet these girls/women muster it all: courage, shame, humor, grace, guilt, and compassion. The stories are interconnected and so there are some heartbreaking unspoken connections the reader can discover, ghostly underpinning. A rape brought up close in one story is referenced in another from the perspective of a friend who can't get it together to be there for the victim. Teenage bullying and philandering haunt a woman as she tries to give her own son advice. Some of the best stories are Monsters of the Deep, The Joy of Cooking, (in One Story Magazine) and Out of the Blue and into the Black. The Joy of Cooking is a simple, brilliant premise. A mother must tell her daughter with an eating disorder how to cook a chicken. And, this story is mostly a phone call. It easily could be a mess of a story or overly wrought, but I found it very moving. Monsters of the Deep may be my favorite story of them all. It got under me and was great fuel for a day of writing. Honestly, though, this is one of those rare occasions where I relished every story. There are no lead sinkers here. The writing is fearless but also true and that's the gift. It's a comfort to read something relative and to get to witness a reckoning, a redemption. I didn't want this collection to end. Some excerpts: From "A Dog Story" -- "For some reason, Doulgas took my hand." (This slayed me because a couple has lost a child and Schappel gives us a info bomb with that "for some reason." Being her husband and loving her isn't enough to explain. This woman's distrust and resentment from grief are all thrown into the questioning of that gesture. "To be fair, Douglas never said Kate lost the baby with any blame or bitterness. Still, Kate lost the baby, especially when said to his mother, made it sound like I left it in a bowling alley, or drove off with it on the roof of our car. Miscarried. I hated that term too. It implied negligence on my part. It whispered maliciousness, irresponsibility, like I'd held the baby upside down, swung it by one foot, dropped it like a bag of eggs. I didn't have to tell my mother, she heard it in my voice. "Oh, Kate," she said. Two days later, a spider plant arrived. It's impossible to kill a spider plant." "When the technician couldn't find the heartbeat, my husband asked her to keep looking, as if the baby were playing Marco Polo and had swum behind a kidney, or was curled up and holding its breath under my lungs." From "The Joy of Cooking" and an example of an excellent first sentence -- "I was halfway out the door when the phone rang. Another person would have let the machine pick up, but you know how it is when you're a mother." "No one saw how much the mother hurt. No one knew, or cared, what she’d lost.” (A really moving moment where Schappell draws attention to the fact that the mother of an anorexic child is in recovery too). Finally, Schappell opens the book with two quotes. The one that follows sums up so much: "I will not become what I mean to you." Barbara Kruger I rolled that one around in my mind for awhile and can't get enough of it. Therein lies the many dramas of living, doesn't it?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Zach

    I’m not sure that the girls in Building Blueprints for Better Girls are necessarily better for their experiences, but they are intensely familiar, as if I had studied their blueprints. As you read, it’s hard not to think, Oh, I know her. It’s not that a character reminds you of someone you already know, but that they are rendered with such consistent attention to personal identity that you feel you should know them. You expect to run into them on the sidewalk. The book elevates self-examination t I’m not sure that the girls in Building Blueprints for Better Girls are necessarily better for their experiences, but they are intensely familiar, as if I had studied their blueprints. As you read, it’s hard not to think, Oh, I know her. It’s not that a character reminds you of someone you already know, but that they are rendered with such consistent attention to personal identity that you feel you should know them. You expect to run into them on the sidewalk. The book elevates self-examination to art form. The characters never dwell in melodrama, they never spout grand philosophies. The real revelations, the real tragedies, aren’t in the big moments; they exist in the smallest actions, especially interactions, of the characters. The grand events are the kinds of things that carry their own weight with them. There’s not much a writer can add, and Schappell wisely uses these life milestones as the framework for her stories, not as the driving force behind them. The result is often small, ordinary scenes that branch out into the larger world through memory, and with this device each scene moves beyond its apparent simplicity. It reminds us of the great complexity of mere existence. To read this book is to enter the characters’ heads, not just knowing their thoughts, but understanding, sometimes to an uncomfortable degree, their psychology. And, like most good books do, it makes you reevaluate your own.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Janine

    I can honestly say that I haven't been this disappointed in a book in a VERY long time. This book appeared in just about every magazine from early July through November, so I was pretty psyched to read it. It was a HUGE let down. The book is a compilation of short stories that supposedly intertwines the lives of several women (high school aged through middle aged). Sounds interesting, right? WRONG! I don't know what was more appalling, the disgustingly static characters or the lackluster plot li I can honestly say that I haven't been this disappointed in a book in a VERY long time. This book appeared in just about every magazine from early July through November, so I was pretty psyched to read it. It was a HUGE let down. The book is a compilation of short stories that supposedly intertwines the lives of several women (high school aged through middle aged). Sounds interesting, right? WRONG! I don't know what was more appalling, the disgustingly static characters or the lackluster plot lines. Trust me, I searched, and I could not find ONE likable character. Between the gratuitous use of profanity and alarming incorporation of drug use, even I was blown away. It was completely unnecessary and added nothing to the already snooze-inducing plot. My students write more engaging short stories than this! Actually, I've read better work on the inside of public restroom stalls. Whatever style she attempted failed...with flying colors. The shift in voices was often confusing and the lack of resolution (which I'm assuming was the writer's flaccid attempt at Post-Modernism) was more annoying than risky. For those of you who know how I feel about books, this is one that I'd consider donating or simply trashing, so no other person would have to subject him/herself to this travesty.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Alex Templeton

    I remember reading Elissa Schappell’s novel “Use Me” back at the end of high school and not liking it; still, when I read such positive reviews of this short story collection, I was ready to dismiss my high school self’s opinion of Schappell because, goodness knows, my tastes were definitely questionable back then. (I read VC Andrews for fun, for YEARS.) All of this is to say that I was disappointed that I was greatly disappointed in this collection. It’s not because Schappell is necessarily a b I remember reading Elissa Schappell’s novel “Use Me” back at the end of high school and not liking it; still, when I read such positive reviews of this short story collection, I was ready to dismiss my high school self’s opinion of Schappell because, goodness knows, my tastes were definitely questionable back then. (I read VC Andrews for fun, for YEARS.) All of this is to say that I was disappointed that I was greatly disappointed in this collection. It’s not because Schappell is necessarily a bad writer; it’s just that I felt that I wasn’t reading anything new. Well, not that anything is really anything else but the same old themes, but I do like seeing the same old themes in captivating new ways. I’m sorry to say that I felt like I’d met these women before in different stories, in different costumes.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    Daaaaaamnnnn I didn't want this one to end! Schappell's second book, a collection of short stories, is spot-on. Each story, though separate, blends seamlessly into the next, giving readers a comprehensive view of the characters. This is the perfect choice if you only have pockets of time in which to read - but you won't want to stop at just one story!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jade Lopert

    If I had to describe this book in five words it would be: beautiful, heart wrenching, real, haunting. It has been a long time since I couldn't put a book down without great difficulty. Schappell has written a series of short stories that is so intimately relatable that it's impossible to not feel for these girls. There are some reviewers who were bemoaning and wanting to know where the "strong" women were in this anthology and the point of this was that these were not strong women. They were real If I had to describe this book in five words it would be: beautiful, heart wrenching, real, haunting. It has been a long time since I couldn't put a book down without great difficulty. Schappell has written a series of short stories that is so intimately relatable that it's impossible to not feel for these girls. There are some reviewers who were bemoaning and wanting to know where the "strong" women were in this anthology and the point of this was that these were not strong women. They were real broken women who had real broken things happen to them. These are the thoughts that anyone whose ever been outcasted by peers or their own experiences are afraid to voice. These are not women who make great decisions, but make the best decisions they can to cope with what they're given. This is something short of a novel and something more than a short story collection. Characters are reintroduced and experiences are shared from different perspectives. The first story and the last are told by the same woman, at the beginning and end of an evolution. It ties the interconnected stories up in a neat little bow. I'm not going to lie and say that I didn't see myself in several of these characters, but the way she writes about how mothers' feel in the face of their children's destruction was perhaps the most affecting. My children are still young enough that it's not something I deal with yet, but someday they will break my heart and that is the potential this collection made me feel. If there was only one story you read in this anthology it would be "The Joy of Cooking". It encompasses how difficult mother/daughter relationships are from both ends. No matter how perfect they may look from the outside. "On her first birthday I made my baby girl a carrot cake and she fed herself with her fist. She squealed with delight. I thought: So, this is love." What more perfect thought is there from a mother looking back on a daughter whose struggled with anorexia her entire life?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tracy Towley

    I want to buy 1,000 copies of Blueprints for Building Better Girls and hand them out to random passersby on the streets. I want this book to be read, immediately, by everyone I've ever known or will ever know. This is incredible stuff. Easily the best book I've read this year. Possibly the best book I've ever read. It is a series of short stories that center around women and the relationships we have with one another, with our lovers, with our spouses, our children, our parents. Most I want to buy 1,000 copies of Blueprints for Building Better Girls and hand them out to random passersby on the streets. I want this book to be read, immediately, by everyone I've ever known or will ever know. This is incredible stuff. Easily the best book I've read this year. Possibly the best book I've ever read. It is a series of short stories that center around women and the relationships we have with one another, with our lovers, with our spouses, our children, our parents. Most of the stories intersect with another story in some way. There was laughing, there was crying. There was one particular 8 page section that I had to read out of the corner of my eye because I just couldn't face it head on. It is brave, and honest, and exceptional in every way. This book made me a wiser person. Thank you, Goodreads First Reads program for sending me this book and thank you Elissa Schappell for writing it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    Blueprints for Building Better Girls is a cleverly interlocked collection of short stories that explores the various roles women play throughout their lives: as daughters, girlfriends, wives, and mothers, etc. Schappell's stories try to make the point that to be a woman is to constantly exist in duality: Girlfriends can be sluts, mothers can be resentful caretakers, wives can be the other women, and daughters can be ungrateful and undutiful. These short stories attempt to explore the compromises Blueprints for Building Better Girls is a cleverly interlocked collection of short stories that explores the various roles women play throughout their lives: as daughters, girlfriends, wives, and mothers, etc. Schappell's stories try to make the point that to be a woman is to constantly exist in duality: Girlfriends can be sluts, mothers can be resentful caretakers, wives can be the other women, and daughters can be ungrateful and undutiful. These short stories attempt to explore the compromises that women have to make and the hypocrisy that they have to face in their dual roles. However, Schappell's stories often read like morality tales rather than entertaining or well-constructed stories. Jean Thompson has explored this territory with more honesty and narrative verve. I also wished Schappell had delineated the interconnectedness of the stories better. Perhaps she could have put them in chronological order or called out with more clarity how the characters were related.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Annalisa

    I picked this up as a possibility for a class about female adolescence--the reviews made it sound like it would delve into the lives of girls in a realistic and multi-dimensional way. Not so much. All the women in the stories focus on are men and babies. Really, it's no longer cutting edge or radical to have a mom character who regrets having children, or a woman who likes sex, but apparently Schappell thinks these things are still shocking enough that they can support an entire short story. All h I picked this up as a possibility for a class about female adolescence--the reviews made it sound like it would delve into the lives of girls in a realistic and multi-dimensional way. Not so much. All the women in the stories focus on are men and babies. Really, it's no longer cutting edge or radical to have a mom character who regrets having children, or a woman who likes sex, but apparently Schappell thinks these things are still shocking enough that they can support an entire short story. All her characters are white, upper middle class, college educated, heterosexual, pretty....they actually blur together after a while. And they are all vapid, which is a real problem for first person narration. The attempts to be thoughtful came across exactly the way privileged college girls who believe they're deep talk. Which I guess is a testament to Schappell's writing, but is not a voice I want to spend 300 pages with.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Meryl

    Elissa Schappell’s collection of interconnected short stories was one of the best short story collections I have ever read. Each character was distinctly drawn. They were not heroes or antiheroes, but real girls and women struggling with issues that were unique while feeling universal. Her cast of repeating characters each stood on her own, and were then illuminated by how they were seen through other characters’ perspectives. Through her stories, she showed how women are influenced by their exp Elissa Schappell’s collection of interconnected short stories was one of the best short story collections I have ever read. Each character was distinctly drawn. They were not heroes or antiheroes, but real girls and women struggling with issues that were unique while feeling universal. Her cast of repeating characters each stood on her own, and were then illuminated by how they were seen through other characters’ perspectives. Through her stories, she showed how women are influenced by their experiences and forced to see the world differently, while never losing sight of the girls they once were. Her stories are heart-breaking and funny, and intensely intimate. A good read for anyone who has ever labeled someone just a slut, or a party girl, an anorexic or a boring old mother.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    My original plan had been to cross-review this with Shout Her Lovely Name which I'd started reading around the same time I was reading this and realized they'd make great companion pieces. This one, I read it at home in, like, five days whereas I read the Shout book during my half-hour lunch breaks and it took me a really, super, amazingly long time to get through it. As a result, I've forgotten what I was going to say to compare the two, other than both are books of short stories that explore re My original plan had been to cross-review this with Shout Her Lovely Name which I'd started reading around the same time I was reading this and realized they'd make great companion pieces. This one, I read it at home in, like, five days whereas I read the Shout book during my half-hour lunch breaks and it took me a really, super, amazingly long time to get through it. As a result, I've forgotten what I was going to say to compare the two, other than both are books of short stories that explore relationships females have with other people, specifically mother/daughter relationships. So, instead, I'll just give my thoughts on this book and then go write the review for that book and it won't be half as clever and erudite as I'd planned. I had to go looking at other reviews in order to get an idea of what this one had been about. My tags aren't specific enough. I came across a New York Times review that stated this book is ironic, it is not actually blueprints for building better girls in this new age of lightened and lessened gender roles. That's good to know because I remember reading this and thinking, "If these stories are supposed to help guide us in how to grow the new women, it can only be via negative reinforcement" because the girls and women in these stories are particularly unpleasant. They're definitely not better girls. They're lost girls. And mean girls. And watery, unfulfilled, undefined girls. Oddly, many of them are ridiculously self-involved, totally unable to figure out the world around them because they're too tied up in their own heads. The stories are interrelated, a community trove. One character hands the story baton off to the next character and they all exist in the same sphere. I don't remember any of the individual stories now but I do remember being saddened by the lack of female friendship. There were the two moms in the park, one who was overly worried that she might come across as weird and that's why she has no friends, but I don't really remember any other female friendships, not ones that were shown and explored and scrutinized. I think most of us have odd relationships with our parents. We learn strange things from the people who raise us and then we go out in the world and either keep the things we've learned close, letting those things define our lives OR we test these truths we've grown up with to see if they hold up against our own worldly experiences. One of the things we do is make our own families out of the people we meet, the ones who are not related to us. I'm pretty sure this is a common thing now - our homemade families are just as, if not more, important than the biological ones. So why wasn't this mentioned? Where were the stories about women finding surrogate moms and daughters, women forging friendships? Maybe this was all there and I've just forgotten. All I remember is a bevy of unhappy, lost, angry, meek women who couldn't figure out what they wanted or where they were going in life.

  12. 4 out of 5

    TinHouseBooks

    Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): At the risk of sounding like either a kiss-ass or the literary equivalent of a deranged band aide, I have to cop that I’ve been rereading our own Elissa Schappell’s Blueprints for Building Better Girls. Elissa read from “A Dog Story,” the second story in the book, at one of the innumerable pre-Brooklyn Book Fest events that were September. I don’t think it was just the after-effects of boozy lit trivia at a prior event that had me teary Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): At the risk of sounding like either a kiss-ass or the literary equivalent of a deranged band aide, I have to cop that I’ve been rereading our own Elissa Schappell’s Blueprints for Building Better Girls. Elissa read from “A Dog Story,” the second story in the book, at one of the innumerable pre-Brooklyn Book Fest events that were September. I don’t think it was just the after-effects of boozy lit trivia at a prior event that had me teary-eyed when Elissa finished. In fact, I know it was the story, because it had me teary-eyed the first time I read it, and it had me again as I read it on the train home from work, almost missed my stop, and had to fix my mascara in the window of a bank. I went home that night to write and took Blueprint‘s opening story, “Monsters of the Deep,” as a kind of master class in getting a story told in scene. As with so many things in life, Elissa makes it look so easy when the feat being accomplished is nothing short of highwire magic.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ciara

    this book is excellent, but don't let some of the more slavering reviews on goodreads fool you. this is in no way like a "complete & fully-realized novel," nor do the "stories blend seamlessly into one another." what were those reviewers thinking? put down the crack pipe, guys. this is a collection of short stories, & while each one features at least one character that has been featured in another story in the book (sometimes the narrator, sometimes a character so secondary as to not even be ter this book is excellent, but don't let some of the more slavering reviews on goodreads fool you. this is in no way like a "complete & fully-realized novel," nor do the "stories blend seamlessly into one another." what were those reviewers thinking? put down the crack pipe, guys. this is a collection of short stories, & while each one features at least one character that has been featured in another story in the book (sometimes the narrator, sometimes a character so secondary as to not even be tertiary), it's definitely a collection of short stories that have very little to do with each other otherwise. but that doesn't mean this book isn't great! it's like what i wanted karen russell's book of short stories to be. i gave death is not an option by suzanne riven five stars (& anyone who reads my reviews regularly knows i am very stingy with the stars). this book is like ten times better. go read it! right now!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Katelynn

    "There's no such thing as 'just a girl.'" I loved that these were all intertwined with each other, telling the stories of girls over the course of decades who are all connected in some way. There were some great lines, and there was a lot of power and self awareness in their POVs, and it was very bold and unabashed in the way they spoke of the differences between men and women and the inherent injustices and inequality we all experience in different ways. That being said, despite the connection, "There's no such thing as 'just a girl.'" I loved that these were all intertwined with each other, telling the stories of girls over the course of decades who are all connected in some way. There were some great lines, and there was a lot of power and self awareness in their POVs, and it was very bold and unabashed in the way they spoke of the differences between men and women and the inherent injustices and inequality we all experience in different ways. That being said, despite the connection, there was also a disjointedness too, and several of the stories were too vague so that I couldn't figure out what the impact or message was supposed to be. Not all, but too many. I want to like this more than I did but I appreciate what it tried to do.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

    Elissa Schappell ain't afraid about writing about bad girls--or "good" ones either, and she shows how hollow those labels are. Here is a Southern college girl who feels unreal whenever she has a thought her proper mother wouldn't approve of, another who loves to get drunk and risky (her nickname is "Bender"), a mom who isn't sure she should have become one, an anorexic adult who keeps her mother drawn into her fears and obsessions. All are complicated, scales rather than single notes on the keyb Elissa Schappell ain't afraid about writing about bad girls--or "good" ones either, and she shows how hollow those labels are. Here is a Southern college girl who feels unreal whenever she has a thought her proper mother wouldn't approve of, another who loves to get drunk and risky (her nickname is "Bender"), a mom who isn't sure she should have become one, an anorexic adult who keeps her mother drawn into her fears and obsessions. All are complicated, scales rather than single notes on the keyboard, and so are their relationships, mixing tenderness, cruelty, need, and idealism. Wow. I have to read these stories again.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Victoria

    I have no idea how to review this book. It's short stories that are connected, but not by much. Short stories are weird, because if they're great, you get pissed when each is over and that's what happened with most of the stories in this book. There are 10 stories with ten endings that leave you hanging...so frustrating!! So for that, it only gets 3 stars instead of 4. Plus the subject matter is so sad. Really depressing. I guess the blueprint is to raise girls who do the exact opposite of the g I have no idea how to review this book. It's short stories that are connected, but not by much. Short stories are weird, because if they're great, you get pissed when each is over and that's what happened with most of the stories in this book. There are 10 stories with ten endings that leave you hanging...so frustrating!! So for that, it only gets 3 stars instead of 4. Plus the subject matter is so sad. Really depressing. I guess the blueprint is to raise girls who do the exact opposite of the girls in this collection.

  17. 5 out of 5

    elka

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. There were only a few spelling errors, and I smiled to myself as I came across them, because I knew as I read that this would be a book that will hopefully see many printings over time. These typos will not live to see the second printing, because Elissa Schappell is meticulous and passionate, and she is the editor of Tin House so if this book doesn't live long you can just smack me and call me late for dinner. if you like short stories that have sex with novels, this is the book for you. Schapp There were only a few spelling errors, and I smiled to myself as I came across them, because I knew as I read that this would be a book that will hopefully see many printings over time. These typos will not live to see the second printing, because Elissa Schappell is meticulous and passionate, and she is the editor of Tin House so if this book doesn't live long you can just smack me and call me late for dinner. if you like short stories that have sex with novels, this is the book for you. Schappell plays with carrying elements in her form. Schappell makes time elapse in an almost drunken way, folding in on itself like the jump of memory, almost akin to Mary Gaitskill's Veronica but culminating in a story that leads you to question whether there might be more, and once she's dragged you out to sea you are beat up by the undertow of overall plot. It was there all along, but you never saw it coming. Have you ever witnessed a robbery without being sure of what you're seeing? I saw a guy steal a bike once. I was standing across the street, directly facing the bike racks. His body held nonchalance like a breath and I thought he was messing around with his own bike, that's how comfortable he looked to me. I had no idea what his true intent was until he started off with the tire. A particular story in the collection, Out of the Blue and Into The Black, pays distinct characteristic homage to Bret Easton Ellis' The Rules of Attraction. The student blacklist. Schappell dips into this roster as if it's character suggestions, and the way she does it is totally gleeful! She takes off. Perhaps she chose this nod as a comfort, a bit of a touchpoint in her work that she could jump off from stylistically, much like Ellis himself. Before this, I couldn't quite picture someone who went to Europe for a summer and came back with an accent. Those just weren't the sort of people that I knew. But Schappell echoes Ellis playfully, and I started to feel seasick for the timultuous lives described therein. For once being that age, and for being on autopilot in similar ways. You'll see what I mean when you read it. I like that it's published as short stories, and not as a novel. I like mixing genres; there's a certain feminist restructuring at work here, not only in the voices chosen but in the book's overall structure. I looked at the alternate cover, and thought they made a good editorial decision there. It sort of kicks your ass just that much more. Again, I love that this was published as short stories, cataloged as so in my library anyway. The thematically or character-linked stories add a developing/devolving humanity past pure need that Ellis, obviously, lacked, and their comparison pretty much exists in the youth of that particular story. But where does that particular story end, and where did it actually start? Somehow the hollow ache created there has been there all along, and now we are older, and wiser, and we know what it is to love, so we know that the ache has a time limit. A nicely timed-short story. And then it is gone.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Eliza

    2/6/2012: These stories are painful to read; they hit so very close to home. Girls (or women, depending on your point of view) are searching for love, for connection, for validation--and yet they keep coming up against their own shortcomings, their fears, their shaky self-esteem. My least favorite one--which also makes it the best story in the collection--is The Joy of Cooking. In it, Emily, a 24 year old struggling with anorexia, calls her mother to ask for her roast chicken recipe--she is exci 2/6/2012: These stories are painful to read; they hit so very close to home. Girls (or women, depending on your point of view) are searching for love, for connection, for validation--and yet they keep coming up against their own shortcomings, their fears, their shaky self-esteem. My least favorite one--which also makes it the best story in the collection--is The Joy of Cooking. In it, Emily, a 24 year old struggling with anorexia, calls her mother to ask for her roast chicken recipe--she is excited about cooking for her first boyfriend. Her mother walks her through it over the phone, thinking back all the while over her daughter's history, wondering how she became the person she is. Meanwhile the daughter is gagging over the chicken, almost unable to touch it, let alone enjoy preparing it. The most poignant story I've read in a while: Schappell is able to show the love between these damaged women, the hope, the fear, the despair on each side of the conversation. Oh dear. The stories are connected in that the same characters reappear, sometimes at different points in their lives, sometimes as side characters in other women's stories. (Emily's sister Paige has her own story; Paige's story is also about Charlotte, who also appears in two other stories.) We also see characters develop over time; for example, Heather is a teenager in one story, then the mother of a teenaged son in a later one. This works well in that I get to see how the girls' insecurities play out over their lives. Unfortunately, it's not pretty--they haven't worked out their insecurities, only translated them from one canvas to another. (If only they'd had some therapy!) And Schappell does all of this well; their behavior, their responses to situations, are practically foreordained. Even as I want to scream at them No! Bad choice! they keep making the same mistakes again and again. All that said, Schappell writes well, and the collection is pretty amazing…though I'm not sure to whom I would recommend it!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Beth

    I liked this book! I had picked it up over and over again for the past year or so, and then would get distracted and put it down. Happens with this type of books to me a lot-- those about girls and young women, particularly short stories. These linked stories are really interesting-- lots of big issues: rape, eating disorders, love/infatuation, family issues, and handles them with subtlety. Many of the stories are framed as memories, with a character in the present telling her story to somone el I liked this book! I had picked it up over and over again for the past year or so, and then would get distracted and put it down. Happens with this type of books to me a lot-- those about girls and young women, particularly short stories. These linked stories are really interesting-- lots of big issues: rape, eating disorders, love/infatuation, family issues, and handles them with subtlety. Many of the stories are framed as memories, with a character in the present telling her story to somone else, or having it unravel in the narrative as it is paralleled by some action going on in the character's present. I didn't love this, only bc I think it popped up in too many of the stories to be interesting. My favorite stories here are the ones that progress neatly in time-- I'm just not sure Schappell is a gifted enough writer to play with time the way she did in some of the stories. I thought, for the most part, this was a great read, and I didn't really put it down much once I got through the first story. A couple of things that bothered me that are so nitpicky but just really stuck in my head: 1. These are linked stories, but many of the characters don't put together the connections, which drove me NUTS. The most egregious place where this happened is one woman makes a new best friend, and they tell each other EVERYTHING, except they never make the connection that woman A was in rehab with woman B's sister. Really? They tell each other EVERYTHING except a defining event in each of their lives? unlikely. 2. One story puts a lot of focus on a girl's pearl necklace. It breaks, and the pearls go everywhere. Except that a nice pearl necklace (which she assures us this is) is made so that the pearls don't go everywhere! they are knotted on individually for that very reason! if your pearl necklace breaks, you'll lose one pearl. I don't know why this bothered me SO MUCH, but it really did. Otherwise, great book. read it!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Danelle

    Blueprints for Building Better Girls: Stories is a collection of eight short stories with a cast of lead female characters who all have a reputation: high school slut, goody two-shoes, party girl, overprotective mom, etc. The stories all share those moments when you move from being a girl to a woman. They are those moments that you don't celebrate and you don't necessarily talk about. They aren't those 'getting your period' or 'sweet sixteen' moments, they are more along the lines of those 'walk Blueprints for Building Better Girls: Stories is a collection of eight short stories with a cast of lead female characters who all have a reputation: high school slut, goody two-shoes, party girl, overprotective mom, etc. The stories all share those moments when you move from being a girl to a woman. They are those moments that you don't celebrate and you don't necessarily talk about. They aren't those 'getting your period' or 'sweet sixteen' moments, they are more along the lines of those 'walk of shame' moments (you know, those mornings in college when you slink back to your dorm in the clothes you were wearing the night before, face smeared with your own mascara and reeking of keg beer). On one of those 'walk of shame' mornings, my best college friend looked at me and our other friend and stated matter-of-factly, "Do you know what we're doing right now? We're growing." And we were. And that's exactly what Elissa Schappell is writing about. Blueprints for Building Better Girls is an honest look at growing up, it's written in a way that's biting but also compassionate. It's funny and sad and smart all at once. The eight stories take place from the 1970's to 2000's. The characters all touch - they are related, or friends, or acqaintances, or friends of friends. They are so seamlessly intertwined that it wasn't until story 5 that I noticed. (And then, as soon as I finished, I had to go back and do a who's who in each story). It's an engaging collection of stories. Perfect if you only have pockets of time to read - but don't be surprised if you can't stop at only one. I finished it in a day. This is one of the best books I've read this year.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    This was a really wonderful collection of loosely linked short stories about being a woman, growing up, and just dealing with the little traumas of everyday life. The links between the stories are sometimes small, but I found them very clever. This is one of those books that I don't want to say too much about for fear of ruining the little surprises and enjoyments found in reading. The women in these stories range in age from teens, to college age, we even the same teenage girl later in life as a This was a really wonderful collection of loosely linked short stories about being a woman, growing up, and just dealing with the little traumas of everyday life. The links between the stories are sometimes small, but I found them very clever. This is one of those books that I don't want to say too much about for fear of ruining the little surprises and enjoyments found in reading. The women in these stories range in age from teens, to college age, we even the same teenage girl later in life as a mother of her own teenage daughter. The situations they deal with, such as an aging grandparent, first sexual encounters, a friend who was raped, a daughter with an eating disorder, and their reactions to these things, are all portrayed realistically. I feel that the women acted in ways that I recognized from either situations myself or someone I know were in. In one of the stories, the character is reading a 1963 etiquette manual for girls(which is where this book got its' title), and she laughs when reading the following paragraph: "In these trying times, it is more important than ever that we take a firm hand in shaping the lives and characters of our young women, not only through instruction but by exhibiting in our own manner and dress, all the finest qualities of womanhood, on which future generations should model their behavior." At first glance, that may seem antiquated and oppressive, but those words really reflect what could, should, or did happen to the women in these stories. This also has a fantastic ending, one of the best final sentences I've read in a while - but I'll hide it under a spoiler cut so as not to ruin the power of it for everyone. (view spoiler)["Don't be a fool, there is no such thing as just a girl" (hide spoiler)]

  22. 4 out of 5

    Simon & Schuster Goodreads

    Don't let the format fool you. Elissa Schappell's collection of short stories, BLUEPRINTS FOR BUILDING BETTER GIRLS (Simon & Schuster, HC 9780743276702, e-Book 9781451607321, September 2011), reads like a complete, fully-realized novel. Schappell introduces eight extraordinary, complex, and wonderfully-imperfect women who make unexpected visits into each other's stories. In the first story, "Monsters of the Deep," we meet an adolescent girl in the 1980s dubbed as the high school floozy, only to Don't let the format fool you. Elissa Schappell's collection of short stories, BLUEPRINTS FOR BUILDING BETTER GIRLS (Simon & Schuster, HC 9780743276702, e-Book 9781451607321, September 2011), reads like a complete, fully-realized novel. Schappell introduces eight extraordinary, complex, and wonderfully-imperfect women who make unexpected visits into each other's stories. In the first story, "Monsters of the Deep," we meet an adolescent girl in the 1980s dubbed as the high school floozy, only to revisit her once again in the last story as she casually makes a sandwich for her own teenage son. Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia! puts it best: "Elissa Schappell writes earthquakes into existence—these stories will make you laugh until you're hoarse and sob, too, often within one perfectly rendered, unforgettable scene…Her humor is the flashlight she shines into the deepest, darkest, truest aspects of her character's experiences." It's a true gem and I promise that there will be one thing—whether it is a specific character, passage, or piece of dialogue—from Blueprints for Better Girls that will stick with you. For me, it is the last line: "Don't be a fool, there is no such thing as just a girl." http://www.galleygrab.com/?asset_url=... Elissa Schappell is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair where she writes the "Hot Type" book column, a former senior editor of The Paris Review, and a founding editor and now editor-at-large of Tin House. --Kara Taylor, Marketing Coordinator

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn Bashaar

    Taken as units, these stories are just okay. But, read as a collection, they are very powerful. It kind of reminded me of the Brancusi exhibit at the Pompidou Museum in Paris. When I looked at a couple of the sculptures in the general exhibit, I was underwhelmed. But when I went to the Brancusi section and saw his work arranged together as he meant for it to be seen, I got it. Some artists and authors work on certain themes, and their work only shines when taken together so that the themes emerg Taken as units, these stories are just okay. But, read as a collection, they are very powerful. It kind of reminded me of the Brancusi exhibit at the Pompidou Museum in Paris. When I looked at a couple of the sculptures in the general exhibit, I was underwhelmed. But when I went to the Brancusi section and saw his work arranged together as he meant for it to be seen, I got it. Some artists and authors work on certain themes, and their work only shines when taken together so that the themes emerge. This was that kind of book. Schappell's theme (as I understood it from reading the stories) is how hard it is for women to be themselves. Most of the women in these stories are in their 20s or 30s and trying to figure out who they are. Most of them are doing a pretty bad job of it. A couple of the stories center around middle-aged mothers who are trying to be supportive of their adult children and are STILL figuring out who they themselves are. None of the men in these stories seem to have that problem. Even when they're jackasses, and most of them are, they are completely comfortable being themselves. I think Schappell has really gone to the heart of something here. It is true that most men seem perfectly at home in the world, while women tend to be more self-conscious and restrained. Am I okay? Am I acting okay? How do I look to everyone else? There were many lovely, deeply true moments in these stories, but I do recommend reading them all. If you just dip in and read one or two, you'll be a little disappointed.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kellie

    I feel really lucky that I won a free copy of this short story collection from the First Reads program. I had never read anything by Elissa Schappell before, but I would recommend her work. The stories in this collection are witty and moving, with well-drawn characters and familiar conflicts. Each story is complete in itself, but there are characters and elements that overlap. The plots include bad relationships, anorexia, rape, infidelity, and motherhood - and always presents these issues in a I feel really lucky that I won a free copy of this short story collection from the First Reads program. I had never read anything by Elissa Schappell before, but I would recommend her work. The stories in this collection are witty and moving, with well-drawn characters and familiar conflicts. Each story is complete in itself, but there are characters and elements that overlap. The plots include bad relationships, anorexia, rape, infidelity, and motherhood - and always presents these issues in a realistic way. The book never feels preachy, perhaps because the characters are so imperfect. I recognized myself, and women I have known and loved, in each narrator. The writing is artful, and reminded me of Jean Thompson. I was particularly impressed by the story of Bea, who describes her terrible relationship with a pretentious, mooching painter with loving detail. She presents the gory details in such a way that the reader cannot help hating him and simultaneously, understanding how Bea can love him. Instead of saying, "How can she be so stupid?" you find yourself thinking, "Yep. Been there."

  25. 5 out of 5

    nicole

    I enjoyed the dark writing and trying to discover where the characters intersections occurred. While I thought this book was interesting, there was one thing I thought it lacked -- the happy girl. I know first-hand that being a woman is hard and I appreciated this close examination of the thoughts and feelings associated with differing archetypes that are outside of my own experience. But where is the confident woman, the girl who didn't leave her friend behind at the frat party, who gets riled I enjoyed the dark writing and trying to discover where the characters intersections occurred. While I thought this book was interesting, there was one thing I thought it lacked -- the happy girl. I know first-hand that being a woman is hard and I appreciated this close examination of the thoughts and feelings associated with differing archetypes that are outside of my own experience. But where is the confident woman, the girl who didn't leave her friend behind at the frat party, who gets riled up while reading articles about the current state of women's healthcare issues, who balances out these other characters uncertainty about their positions in life. Maybe I have just always been fortunate to surround myself with women of this caliber, but my own personal experience made the title seem like a call to action -- let these fictional examples show that we need to provide stronger blueprints for building better girls.

  26. 4 out of 5

    C.E. G

    4.5 stars - this book has not gotten nearly as much hype as it deserves. I picked it up because I'd heard it compared to A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, and while it wasn't quite as good as that, I would still highly recommend it to those of you with a dark sense of humor and a feminist sensibility. The book is made up of 8 short stories (that are sorta linked through recurring characters) about a variety of white, straight women in the 1970s-present day. Sometimes I have trouble ge 4.5 stars - this book has not gotten nearly as much hype as it deserves. I picked it up because I'd heard it compared to A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, and while it wasn't quite as good as that, I would still highly recommend it to those of you with a dark sense of humor and a feminist sensibility. The book is made up of 8 short stories (that are sorta linked through recurring characters) about a variety of white, straight women in the 1970s-present day. Sometimes I have trouble getting into short stories, but Schappell pulls you in so quickly that you feel like you've known the characters much longer than a few pages. And while it is interesting and complex, it's still humorous and enjoyable enough to make a good "beach read" (not that I like beaches. at all.).

  27. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    A lot to pick apart here. Very interesting close-ups of girls, women, mothers, daughters, everything a female can be and should be and shouldn't be and more. Some of the characterization and writing can feel dull or played out but the central thing, the characters, their actions and motivations, are what holds the stories together and keeps them moving. That the stories are interconnected is nothing but a novelty of the collection. It does point to how intertwined women's lives can be, but it is A lot to pick apart here. Very interesting close-ups of girls, women, mothers, daughters, everything a female can be and should be and shouldn't be and more. Some of the characterization and writing can feel dull or played out but the central thing, the characters, their actions and motivations, are what holds the stories together and keeps them moving. That the stories are interconnected is nothing but a novelty of the collection. It does point to how intertwined women's lives can be, but it is otherwise unremarkable. Personal favorites of the collection include "Monsters of the Deep," "Out of the Blue and into the Black," and "I'm Only Going to Tell You this Once." These stories read like a rumor or story a close friend is telling you. This collection is at its best when it allows women the cruelty, selfishness, and independence that is otherwise reserved for men, without condemnation or explanation.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jodi

    Every six months or so for the past decade, I’d randomly type ‘Elissa Schappell’ into Amazon’s search bar and cross my fingers. I kept hoping and hoping that she had released a book that some how slipped by me. I fell in love so hard with her collection of linked short stories Use Me that I longed for something else. When I spied Blueprints for Building Better Girls on some Fall 2011 release list, I bounced in my chair, fist pumping like a member of the Jersey Shore. I was excited. I marched right Every six months or so for the past decade, I’d randomly type ‘Elissa Schappell’ into Amazon’s search bar and cross my fingers. I kept hoping and hoping that she had released a book that some how slipped by me. I fell in love so hard with her collection of linked short stories Use Me that I longed for something else. When I spied Blueprints for Building Better Girls on some Fall 2011 release list, I bounced in my chair, fist pumping like a member of the Jersey Shore. I was excited. I marched right into this collection of interlinked stories with nary a worry. Not once did it cross my mind that this book would be disappointing. I didn’t entertain the idea that maybe this wouldn’t live up to my memories of Use Me. I knew, knew that Elissa Schappell would deliver the goods. read more.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Pia

    I wonder if Elissa Schappell is lonely. Because that's the one thread that ties each and everyone of her heroines, each of whom have a story that ties to the one before it. Each of these women are in different stages of their lives, either alienated by sex or gossip or even a stigma they have created themselves. How sad I felt for these women, how utterly painful it was to read some of these, because they left me with an empty pit in my stomach about wanting to raise my daughters "the right way. I wonder if Elissa Schappell is lonely. Because that's the one thread that ties each and everyone of her heroines, each of whom have a story that ties to the one before it. Each of these women are in different stages of their lives, either alienated by sex or gossip or even a stigma they have created themselves. How sad I felt for these women, how utterly painful it was to read some of these, because they left me with an empty pit in my stomach about wanting to raise my daughters "the right way." I did enjoy the book though; each of the stories were quick, tasty little bites, but the amount of melancholy will last me the rest of the week.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    It's been way too long since I couldn't put a book down. The girls/women in these stories are what I expected, with all it's hype, Heti's "How Should A Person Be?" characters would be like before I read and was disappointed. I can see myself and the women in my life in these stories and relationships. The only thing that I disliked was the male characters were weak and constantly antagonistic to the point that they were unbelievable at times. "Aren't You Dead Yet?" was my favorite (my relationsh It's been way too long since I couldn't put a book down. The girls/women in these stories are what I expected, with all it's hype, Heti's "How Should A Person Be?" characters would be like before I read and was disappointed. I can see myself and the women in my life in these stories and relationships. The only thing that I disliked was the male characters were weak and constantly antagonistic to the point that they were unbelievable at times. "Aren't You Dead Yet?" was my favorite (my relationship of last year developed in a parallel universe for sure); with the connected "Monsters of the Deep"/"I'm Only Going to Tell You This Once" as a close second.

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