Joyce Carol Oates books generally focus on the vulnerability of women and what can happen to them when they least expect it, especially if they wander into situations or places they are physically or emotionally unprepared to handle. Two or Three Things I Forgot to Tell You, the author’s latest Young Adult novel (said to be appropriate for readers 14 and up), is a cautionary reminder that women first enter this danger zone as girls – when peer pressure and a desire to “fit in” make them especially easy targets.
The novel is divided into three interconnected sections. The first part focuses on Merissa, a Quaker Heights Day School senior who is on a roll. She is, in fact, doing so well that her friends have taken to calling her “The Perfect One.” Merissa seems to prove their point when, two weeks before Christmas, she learns that she is the only one of her classmates to have snagged an early admission to Brown University, one of the schools most prized by her peers and teachers.
The second section of the book is a flashback to the previous year when Tink, a former child actress, made her debut at Quaker Heights Day School. Tink has a mind of her own – and no friends until the day Merissa and her group ask Tink to join them at their lunch table. Soon, mostly because of her independence and seeming indifference to what others think of her, Tink earns the school’s respect and her new friends have taken to calling themselves Tink, Inc. Then, almost as if to spite her soap opera actress mother, Tink kills herself.
Part three of Two or Three Things I Forgot to Tell You concerns Nadia, another member of Tink, Inc. Nadia, during one night of drunken partying seems to have done some things she is probably lucky not to be able to remember. Now, having been labeled a school slut for the remainder of her senior year, she is being cyber-bullied and harassed in the school hallways by friends of the boy she believed would keep their secret.
Tink may be gone, but her friends still call upon her for advice and claim to feel her presence when they most need her reassurance. Because of their “what would Tink do” approach to life, Tink still “speaks” to them and helps them through their worst days. Merissa, seeking relief from the intense pressure to excel, cuts herself and considers suicide. The level of social isolation and ridicule Nadia experiences proves to be more than she can handle alone. Thankfully, Tink is there to help.
Middle and High School girls will easily identify with the characters and situations of Two or Three Things I Forgot to Tell You. If they have not lived through similar situations, they almost certainly know of someone who has. The novel, perhaps because of the age of its target audience, does have a more optimistic ending than that of most Joyce Carol Oates novels. The relative ease with which the girls seem to pull their lives back together might seem unrealistic to adult readers – but Two or Three Things I Forgot to Tell You was not written for us. Its message of caution, hope and optimism is one that young women need to hear.