Pizza Girl is the first novel by Jean Kyoung Frazier.
Finished on: 11.8.2021
Content Note: stalking, alcoholism
She is 18 years old, pregnant and works as a pizza delivery girl. Living with her mother and her boyfriend who seem way more excited about the baby than she is, she has no idea where to go from here. She doesn’t even want to think about it. Then she delivers a pizza one day to Jenny and her son. Something about Jenny’s apparently chaotic life and her ponytail draws her in, and Jenny, too, seems to take an interest in the “Pizza Girl”, as she calls her. She starts waiting and hoping for Jenny’s call to the pizza place every week – but soon that isn’t enough anymore.
Pizza Girl should be a heavy book but somehow Frazier manages to keep it light and quick despite the many difficult topics she touches on. While I appreciate that, I would have also liked to feel the heaviness a little more. That being said, it’s certainly a memorable novel and a very good debut that will stay with me.
The novel is told from the protagonist’s point of view (her name is revealed at the end of the book, but I won’t spoil it here), and I know first person narration has gotten a lot of shit recently (I am not exactly sure where the hate is coming from, I never minded it), but it really works here. And it gives Frazier two advantages. The first is that the protagonist is rather matter-of-fact about many things that shouldn’t actually be simply accepted if you think about them for a little (something that contributes to the novel’s lightness despite the heavy topics). And the second is that you can always empathize with the protagonist, even when her choices are more than just a little messy. Just how fucked up is something that you only seem to realize after the fact – a little like the protagonist – and by then, the story has moved on a little already. While I appreciate the message of “even if you fuck up badly, live goes on”, I would have liked it if we had a bit of a beat to consider the consequences a little longer, and to feel their weight.
The protagonist’s state of mind and how things devolve for her is shown with sharp precision, but without judgement. This is especially difficult and important because we tend to judge pregnant people a lot, and usually entirely in relation to how well they take care of the unborn child. And the protagonist does not take good care of the child. But she doesn’t even take good care of herself, and that seems to be the more important point here. She is simply not well.
That doesn’t mean that there is nothing good in her life. And it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t still have a sense of humor. The novel isn’t all bleak – there are also beautiful moments of connection here, and a bit of hope. Things can get better again. Sometimes you just have to hit some kind of bottom before you can start over.
The book focuses on the protagonist’s relationship with Jenny and with her deceased father. Those two relationships are vibrant, strong and clear (with the comment about Frazier’s own father in the acknowledgments, the latter becomes especially poignant). In comparison, her relationships with her mother and her boyfriend felt a little flatter. Since it is with them that most of the possibilities for her future lie, the mentioned hope part is a little short-changed, though.
In any case, the novel is a really good read and certainly a book that resonated with me. I am looking forward to reading whatever Frazier writes next.
Summarizing: very good.