Coming Soon: My Top 10 LGBT+ YA of 2016

Wow, can I ever not believe that we’re almost into the last week of November! 2016 is soon drawing to and end. In some ways, I’m glad–2016 has been on hell of a year, and I mean that it’s been basically a living nightmare at times.

However, I read some excellent books this year, and a lot of great LGBT+ YA books, so I’ve decided to put together a list of my ten favourites that I read this year. It was actually so hard for me to narrow down the list, but somehow I managed to pull it off. I believe with one exception, all of the books I’ve included were published this year (the one exception was published in 2012, but it was too good to not make my top 10).

I’ve also been lucky enough to have gotten to read a few books this year that will be published in 2017, most notably Becky Albetalli’s The Upside of Unrequited, Adam Silvera’s History is All You Left Me, and Bill Konigsberg’s Honestly Ben. I also have Robin Talley’s Our Own Private Universe waiting for me on my bookshelf. While all incredible books, none of them will appear on my list because they’re not actually published yet (though I fully anticipate some of them will make my top ten for 2017).

Anyway, starting December 1st through the 10th, I’ll be posting one book a day, counting down from ten to one of my chosen Top 10. Then, also on December 10th, I’ll post the full list, as well as a few honourable mentions that almost made it. 🙂

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What works best for me.

I’ll start right off by saying this may be one of my most mega-personal posts.

Ok, so since I started this blog back in the summer, I’ve written some things. I like to write, and that’s why I created this blog. And I feel like some of the things I’ve written have culminated in this post. Here’s what’s come before that’s lead to this:

I’ve written about my love for LGBT YA novels, and in that post and this one about bisexual visibility,  I talk about my process of self-discovery–how I came out a bi at 17 and later came out again as gay, because that felt like the better label for me. In the bisexual visibility post, and in my recent double review of two of Bill Konigsberg’s wonderful books, I talk about labels and how we all have the right to choose our own no matter what anyone else tries to force on us.

And those things are things I’m going to touch on in this post too: my continual journey of self-discovery, and labels.

As I said above, I first came out ten years ago at 17. For the first five years post-closet, I called myself “bi”, for reasons I’ve already discussed in the posts linked above–basically, I was with a girl at the time, and bi felt like the right choice then. For the last five-ish years, however, I’ve called myself “gay”. That is the label I’ve chosen to use, because that’s felt like the best, most-accurate option.

However, something I don’t talk about very often (which I’m clearly changing right now) is that even “gay” has never felt 100% right to me. And there’s several reasons for this. As I said, “gay” has felt like the most-accurate option, but I feel like “gay” is limiting. Like, by calling myself gay, I close myself off to only being interested in other gay, cisgender males. But I’ve always said that I will never 100% tell you that I’ll never fall for a woman. After all, my first real relationship was with a girl; she’s the first person I came out to and we were together for another year after that.

However, I honestly don’t see that happening. But never say never. Furthermore, I feel like “gay” also implies that I’m not open to being with someone who is trans, genderqueer, non-binary, etc. I have always believed sexuality exists on a spectrum.

But even more important than that, I believe that when we fall for someone, it is the person that matters, not what parts they have/what gender they are. I don’t want to feel like my chosen label closes me off from anyone, because I believe in love, and I believe that love can transcend anything. You may think I’m naive, and that’s entirely possible.

So, you may be reading this and saying, “Ok, so is he actually bi? Is he pansexual?”. And believe me, I’ve wondered the same thing. However, to take things a step further, I feel like terms like “gay”, “bisexual”, “pansexual”, etc., all imply a sexual interest.

To be completely honest, I’ve never actually had sex with a guy. I’ve fooled around, but never more than that. And while I do think about sex, sometimes the idea of actually having it freaks me out. Which has caused me to wonder, does this mean I could possibly be asexual or demisexual? I don’t think I’m ace, because I do think about sex, and it’s definitely something I want to try at least once. But it has to be with the right person, I won’t just jump into bed with anyone because that’s not who I am.

So you can see, none of these labels make any sense to me. None of them feel completely right. And sometimes I’ve wondered, do I actually need a label? But then, without one, how do I identify myself?

I’ve said this before, and now that Donald Trump is President-Elect of the U.S., I’m sure I’ll say this again and again and again in the future: the reality is, being out in this world is sometimes still a dangerous and defying act. And in this defiance, I want a label. I am damn proud of who I am. And I want a term I can freely and easily use to describe who I am, and one that others can use to describe me. Because I have nothing to hide and I am perfectly all right with others knowing who and what I am.

And here is where my struggle to find the right label culminates in this post. “Gay” is pretty accurate, but still doesn’t feel 100% right. “Bi”, “pan”, “ace”, “demi”, etc. all don’t feel right either.

So I’ve chosen simply to use “queer”. Queer has, in my opinion, moved past the derogatory meaning of old. Our community has embraced the term again, and I frequently use LGBT+ and queer interchangeably. Like many, I see queer as the perfect catchall term to describe those that fall into the LGBTQIA+ umbrella.

And going forward, “queer” will be my label of choice, because I think it’s finally the one that makes the most sense. It still lets me identify myself as being different, something I am damn proud to be. It still lets me be open and defiant and loud and proud. But also, it lets me feel like I’m not closing myself off into a label that has never fully felt right.

Queer just feels right. It’s the one I’m choosing, and I hope everyone in my life will respect this choice and use it from now on. If you still call me “gay”, I will probably correct you. Please don’t be offended if I do, and I won’t be offended by you saying “gay”. It’s still a mostly-accurate description, but going forward, queer is better because it’s what works best for me.

Thank you. ❤

You had one job, America!

When I first started this blog, I wrote that my point in starting this blog was, “to give me a place to say all I feel like saying, to stand up and shout my gayness from proverbial internet rooftop, to be loud and proud and to keep shouting until the world gets better or until I can’t shout any longer”. I also said, “I long for a world when there is no more homophobia, transphobia, hatred, discrimination, etc. of the queer community. But I know that day is still way, way into the future and there is still a long way to go before it gets here”.

Well, thanks to America, we now have an even longer way to go!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last twenty-four hours, by now you surely know that the United States of America have elected a lying, racist, bigoted, groping, prejudiced, sexual predator, Cheeto-dust-orange buffoon to be their president.

I honestly did not see this coming. I did not believe for one single second that America would be stupid enough to elect Donald Trump. No way, no how. But yet, it happened. It’s a thing. And now, America and the rest of the world has to live with the consequences. To make matters even more fucked up, according to Google, while Trump won more Electoral College votes, Hillary Clinton actually beat him in the popular vote by more than two hundred-thousand votes. That’s how fucked up this is: more people voted for her, but he’s the one who gets to be president?! HOW IS THIS A FUCKING THING, AMERICA?! 

Regardless, nearly half of the people who voted still voted for Donald Trump. I’m sure it will come as no surprise that most of them were white. That’s what systemic racism looks like.

And y’all, it’s bad. BuzzFeed has some very important articles I’m going to link to. Like:

Read them. Read them all now, I’ll wait.

….

How about a few more?

So yeah, it’s bad. People are panicking. People are scared. And you know what? They probably should be. That’s the most terrifying aspect of this. People should be scared because the idea of Donald Trump as President and Mike Pence as Vice-President is fucking scary. So much so that Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Website actually crashed when Trump started getting strong results.

I’m going to share a few key Tweets from last night/today:

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These are just some of the reactions that really struck me. I’m so scared for the LGBT, female, Muslim, Latinx, black, and disability communities in America. And several times throughout the night, I felt so thankful that I live in Canada.

Now, don’t get me wrong: Canada is far from perfect, which I’ve acknowledged on this blog at least a few times before. Including the day before the election, when I wrote this post about how it seems like Donald Trump’s version of America is making its way into Canada. I talked about a few events that have happened recently that suggest a growing sentiment of anti-LGBT expression in Canada.

The last thing Canada needs is Trump’s values making their way north of the border, but now that he’s actually going to be president, it’s hard to ignore the possibility of this happening. I’d like to believe Canada is better than this, but recent events seem determined to prove me wrong. And you know what just had to be the icing on the fucking cake?

Kellie Leitch.

Leitch is a Member of Parliament who is running to be the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. And late last night she sent the following email to her followers, which one of her former staffers, Andrew McGrath, shared on his Twitter:

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That’s right: Kellie Leitch wants to bring Donald Trump’s message to Canada. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, this does not necessarily mean Leitch is anti-LGBT. After all, she marched in Toronto’s Pride Parade this year. But still, here we have a woman who used to be the Minister for the Status of Women saying that Donald Trump’s message is exciting. Let us not forget: Donald Trump is the one who was caught on video bragging about sexually assaulting women and has had numerous women come forward since to accuse him either assaulting, groping or kissing them without consent.

But no, let’s all just listen to Kellie Leitch and embrace Donald Trump here in Canada. From what I can tell, it’s mostly Donald’s anti-immigrant, anti-refugee message that Leitch is really embracing. In the email above, she says she’s “the only candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Part of Canada who is standing up for Canadian values”. During the fall election campaign last year, Leitch suggested setting up a snitch line for people to report “barbaric cultural practices”. And she wants to screen would-be immigrants and refugees for “anti-Canadian values”.

So yeah, if Leitch gets her way, Canada might as well just start consider itself part of the United States. And you know what, if that happens… if anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric starts to spread even more in Canada, who’s to say Trump’s other values won’t as well? If Leitch wants to open the door to Trump’s message, how do we know that anti-abortion, anti-LGBT and racist rhetoric won’t follow?

That’s the thing: we don’t. We don’t know what’s going to happen over the course of the next four years.

The U.S. had one fucking job this election: to not let hatred prevail. And that’s pretty much exactly what happened. Florida–a state where not even six months ago, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history happened (which was also an attack on the LGBT community)–elected Donald Trump. If even Florida couldn’t see Trump for who he is, it’s no wonder he got elected.

America has now pretty much erased years of progress made under the Obama administration. Some have suggested the country has been set back fifty years. I’ve seen Tweets from people who (jokingly or not) have suggested that America could soon turn into the Hunger Games, that LGBT conversion camps could be coming.

My one hope is that America wakes the fuck up in the next four years and makes Trump a one-term president. But honestly, now that Trump has won, nothing will surprise me anymore. Who knows if there will even still be democracy in the U.S. in four years?

Anyway, I need to try to end this post on a good note, even though I haven’t felt very positive much of today. First, here’s a bunch of inspiring Canadians who are ready to welcome terrified Americans. And finally, here are people using Harry Potter for comfort after the election.

Like I said at the start of this post, the point of this blog is, “to stand up and shout my gayness from proverbial internet rooftop, to be loud and proud and to keep shouting until the world gets better or until I can’t shout any longer”.

Well, if there’s one thing I can promise you now, after this election went the way it did, you can bet your ass that I am never going to stop shouting.

Double Review: Openly Straight and Honestly Ben

oshbWelcome to my first double review! In today’s post, I will be reviewing Bill Konigsberg’s 2013 novel Openly Straight and its upcoming 2017 companion Honestly Ben.

I first came across Openly Straight when wandering through a bookstore on a trip to Prince Edward Island in the summer of 2013. It was on a table with an assortment of other teen books, and the cover and title caught my eye. I read the description on the jacket and just knew I had to have this book. I’ve probably read it four or five times in the last three years. Here’s that description:

Rafe is from Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer. He hates tofu. He’s won skiing prizes. He likes to write.

And, of yeah, he’s gay. He’s been out since eighth grade, and he isn’t teased, and he goes to schools and talks about tolerance and stuff. And while that’s important, all he wants is to be a regular guy. Not that gay guy. To have that be a part of who he is, but not the headline, every single time.

So when he transfers to an all-boys’ boarding school in New England, he decides to become “openly straight” — not so much going back in the closet as starting over outside it. The transformation works: Rafe revels in a new group of straight guy friends, and the chance to be “just Rafe” at last. But things get complicated when he falls in love with one of his new friends… who doesn’t even know that’s a possibility.

A book for anyone who’s ever felt trapped within just one part of who they are, Openly Straight is a funny, smart novel about being out, being real, and all the things “be yourself” can mean.

Ever since first reading Openly Straight, I have felt like I can connect with Rafe’s story. Even ten years since coming out, I sometimes still wonder if I am defined only by my sexuality. While I don’t necessarily believe that, I do find it funny that I am wondering this on my queer-themed blog. But in all seriousness, I am so much more than just gay, just like Rafe is.

When Rafe first begins at the Natick School, he decides to not be openly gay because he’s tired of being known solely for being the gay kid. Not surprisingly, his best friend and his parents are confused by this choice, but Rafe goes through with it anyway. And because we live in a heteronormative society where everyone is presumed to be straight until they’re not, his plan works. At least, at first.

Until Rafe starts to get close with his new straight friend, Ben. And then feelings start to develop. And that’s when things start to get a little bit messy, and Rare soon begins to realize that when you try to hide parts of yourself from the world, you not only end up hurting yourself, but you can hurt others as well.

I really love the way Bill Konigsberg tackles identity in Openly Straight. Rafe has been out for a long time. He is completely okay with who he is, and he has no issues being gay. His main issue is the label and how the “gay” label follows him everywhere. There’s even one instance in the book where one of Rafe’s teachers asks him for the “gay perspective” on something.

Openly Straight is a funny, thought-provoking, and honest novel about what it means to “be yourself”, and how you can find that self when you feel like you’ve been defined by one thing for most of your life. It’s also a lesson in how even the best of intentions can still lead to things getting a little out of control.

hbosWhich brings us to… Honestly Ben. When I first finished Openly Straight, I wanted more. I wanted to know what happened next. When I heard that Bill was writing a second book, but this time from Ben’s perspective, I was over the moon. Here’s what it’s about:

Ben Carver is back to normal.

He’s getting all As in his classes at the Natick School. He was just elected captain of the baseball team. He’s even won a big scholarship for college, if he can keep up his grades. All that foolishness with Rafe Goldberg last semester is over now, and he just needs to be a Carver, work hard, and stat focused.

Except…

There’s Hannah, a gorgeous girl who attracts him and distracts him. There’s his mother, whose quiet unhappiness he’s noticing for the first time. School is harder, the pressure higher, the scholarship almost slipping away. And there’s Rafe, goofy, kind, dating someone else… and maybe the real normal that Ben needs.

Perfect for fans of David Levithan and John Green, Honestly Ben is a smart, serious, laugh-out-loud novel that will speak to anyone who’s ever struggled to be “honestly ________” in their lives.

I was actually fortunate enough to be chosen to read an early draft of Honestly Ben about a year ago, and then I recently received an advance reader copy ahead of its release next spring. So I’ve been invested in this story for a while, and let me tell you: it’s everything I wanted.

In Honestly Ben, Bill has written a wonderful and sincere companion to Openly Straight that was just the continuation of the story I wanted, while also giving a beautiful exploration into the mind of Ben Carver, who we first meet through Rafe’s perspective in Openly Straight.

Ben’s a quiet guy who doesn’t say a lot, and Rafe sometimes finds it hard to get a read on him. So I love hearing Ben’s side of things from his perspective in the second book. I love being in Ben’s head, where he is anything but quiet. He is always thinking, sometimes just a bit too much, and he just chooses to keep those thoughts to himself.

Ben struggles to fit in at the Natick School as a scholarship student from a small town in New Hampshire, when almost everyone else is a rich kid that doesn’t need to worry about money or good grades to get a scholarship to pay for college. He also struggles a lot with family expectations. All his life, he’s been told to work hard, not get a big head, and not question things. But what happens when that life just doesn’t work for you anymore?

I also love this book because it’s another wonderful journey about identity, sexuality, and the labels and expectations that others attach to us, and that we sometimes attach to ourselves. It is also an honest reflection on how we can sometimes let ourselves and others down, but still find our way back again.

After all, we are all humans. We make mistakes. And then we learn from them.

Openly Straight is available now. Honestly Ben comes out March 28th, 2017. You can pre-order it now from Indigo by clicking here.

Note: I received an advanced reader copy of Honestly Ben from Scholastic in exchange for an honest review.

Is Donald Trump’s version of America making its way into Canada?

trumpflagThe U.S. Presidential Election is tomorrow. The polls are tight, and there’s a very real possibility that Donald Trump could become the next president. I hope more than anything that never happens. Donald Trump is not fit to be the U.S. president. He called Mexicans rapists. He wants to ban all members of an entire religion from the United States. He openly bragged about being able to sexually assault women because he’s famous. He has been accused by at least eight women who say he either assaulted, groped or kissed them without consent. And yet, there’s still a chance that this man could be the next American president.

Donald Trump likes to pretend he’s supportive of LGBT rights. But let’s be clear: a Trump presidency would be disastrous for the LGBT community.  And as explained in two articles, one by Jay Michaelson at The Daily Beast and one by Kira Brekke at The Huffington Post, here’s why:

Trump has repeatedly promised to appoint conservative Supreme Court judges, who would no doubt be in favour of overturning same-sex marriage rights. His running mate, Governor Mike Pence, may actually be worse than Donald Trump. Pence signed a law that allows discrimination against the LGBT community under the guise of “religious freedom”. He has also endorsed (and wants to fund) the horrible treatment known as “conversion therapy”.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, there is very little methodologically sound research on conversion therapy. In fast, the results of scientific research indicates that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex attractions through SOCE (sexual orientation change efforts). Conversion therapy is harmful to the LGBT community, especially youth, who are often the ones forced into this by unaccepting families. We already know that unacceptance and prejudice causes harm toLGBT youth. Again, according to the HRC, LGBT youth are more than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide, more than 6 times as likely to have high levels of depression, more than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs, and more than 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and other STDs.

Trump has also not been clear on his stance regarding transgender rights. He initially spoke out against North Carolina’s bathroom bill, but later said he supported the state’s right to pass such discriminatory legislation, and he has said he wants to rescind the Department of Education’s guidance to allow transgender youth to use the bathroom of their choice at school.

Even a conservative LGBT group, the Log Cabin Republicans, have said they won’t endorse Donald Trump.

So yes, Donald Trump and Mike Pence in the White House would be terrible for the LGBT community. That much is obvious to sane, intelligent people. But yet, they still have supporters. Anti-LGBT statements don’t seem to be diminishing. Instead, they seem to be increasing as more and more people seem to be embracing the ideas that Trump and Pence perpetuate.

And so, I’m beginning to wonder, are these ideas making their way north of the border? Is Donald Trump’s version of America making its way into Canada?

Before this past week, I’d probably have said, “No way, no how”. But now, I’m not so sure. While I love my country and all of the pro-LGBT laws/demonstrations/etc. that we have here, a couple things in the news recently have me wondering whether anti-LGBT sentiments are spreading here in Canada as well.

The House of Commons recently passed at second reading a bill that will protect the rights of transgender people by adding gender identity and expression to human rights and hate crime laws. It still has to pass a third reading and go before  the Senate before it will become law, but I don’t doubt that it will happen because this is Canada and our government usually makes the right calls. But that doesn’t mean the bill doesn’t face opposition.

Recently, a professor at the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson, spoke about his refusal to use non-binary pronouns—i.e. “they” instead of “he” and “she”. Peterson also has issue with Bill C-16 (the trans rights bill mentioned above). He also takes issue with the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s definition of “gender identity”. Peterson doesn’t believe in political correctness and thinks the government has no right to mandate the words that people speak.

People should have the right to choose which words people use to refer to them. I’m sure that Peterson prefers to be called a “he” and would likely take issue with someone calling him a “she”, so if someone prefers to be called “they”, then that is their choice and his refusal to abide by their wishes undermines their human rights.

Beyond the news about Peterson, there have been two other frightening news stories in the last week or so that I almost don’t want to believe happened in Canada.

The first is about a gamer group in Quebec called ATG that wants everyone to know that its members hate gays. According to Mack Lamoureux at Vice, ATG’s members “[Sport] shirts that say ‘If you’re gay, don’t approach me, I’ll kill you’ in public and [drop] quotes like ‘I hate gays for real’ in interviews with media”. One member of the group openly wore the shirt at a haunted farm event in Ottawa. Not only is this happening in Canada, but it’s happening in Ottawa, which just so happens to be where I freaking live! This is not okay!

As Lamoureux further reports:

Dr. Kristopher Wells, the faculty director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies at the University of Alberta, called it “very concerning” to know that this isn’t just a lone wolf situation.

“The shirt goes beyond being offensive,” Wells told VICE. “I think the Ottawa police and the RCMP domestic terrorism group should be investigating this kind of shirt.

“With this kind of rhetoric, it puts citizens on edge wondering when or if this kind of language turn into actual violence. What would actually happen if a gay person went up to these people and did want to, you know, shake their hand?”

Wells said that the shirt in itself is violent and some critics, including lawyers, have said they believe it violates Section 319 of the Canadian Criminal Code which governs hate speech.

One member of the group told CTV News that he believes the shirts should be allowed because of freedom of speech. Ummmmm, freedom of speech does not allow for hate speech. Ughhhh, people.

The second story is about a restaurant in Montreal that tried to bar a transgender woman from using the women’s washroom. According to CBC News:

Estelle Davis told CBC News she was chastised on Tuesday for using the women’s washroom by employees of New System Bar-B-Q, located on Notre-Dame Street.

On her way to the bathroom, she said a staff member yelled at her from across the restaurant and told her that men were prohibited from entering.

“I looked back at her and said ‘That’s perfect cause I’m a woman, so I’m going to go use the washroom,'” said Davis.

“And she said ‘No, that’s for women. You’re a man, you’re not allowed to go in there.'”

Geeeee, I didn’t realize that Quebec had suddenly turned into North Carolina!

I just cannot believe all of the anti-LGBT shit that’s been going down in Canada lately. This is Canada, and I firmly believe we are better than this. But sadly, I’m left wondering if the views of Donald Trump, Mike Pence and others within the Republican Party are having a negative effect on life here in the great white north?

All I know is that I really hope we see Hillary Clinton winning tomorrow’s election, and that from there we see things get better for the LGBT community. Until such a time, my ongoing mission to keep queering the mainstream continues!

Review: Girl Mans Up

gmu2Well, I’ve definitely been busy lately! School pretty much owns my life, so I haven’t had as much time to blog, and so I’ve fallen a little behind on reviews. This is one I’ve ben meaning to do for a while, and since I had the incredible pleasure of meeting M-E Girard today, now is definitely the right time.

So, without further ado, allow me to tell you all about the awesomeness that is Girl Mans Up! Starting, as always, with a description of the book:

All Pen wants is to be the kind of girl she’s always been. So why does everyone have a problem with it? They think the way she looks and acts means she’s trying to be a boy—that she should quit trying to be something she’s not. If she dresses like a girl, and does what her folks want, it will show respect. If she takes orders and does what her friend Colby wants, it will show her loyalty. But respect and loyalty, Pen discovers, are empty words. Old-world parents, disintegrating friendships, and strong feelings for other girls drive Pen to see the truth–that in order to be who she truly wants to be, she’ll have to man up.

Girl Mans Up is about a queer teen named Pen who realizes the only way she’ll get people off her back is by standing up for herself–even if that means her relationships with her friends and her family get messed up in the process. It’s also about a gender-nonconforming teen who struggles to own her identity as a girl when she looks and acts like a boy and everyone around her expects her to be one or the other.

(Source: M-E Girard)

M-E Girard and myself!

M-E Girard and myself!

First thing, and this is mega important: M-E Girard is a Canadian author and the book is set in Canada. Which, as a Canadian, is super awesome. Also, she’s super awesome. I had the pleasure of meeting her today and she was so nice and funny. We had some great chats this afternoon when she visited the bookstore I work at. Then I saw her at an event at a branch of the Ottawa Public Library where she talked about Girl Mans Up and how the book came to be and so on. So yeah, that was great.

But also, the book is hella great too. Pen is such an honest and real character, and her story is just so lifelike. It’s almost like reading a memoir at some points and not a work of fiction. I’ll be honest: there were some points where I didn’t really like Pen. She’s rough around the edges, but that’s part of what makes her so real and why her voice is one that will stay with you.

Respect and loyalty are two words that come up a lot in this book. Pen’s best friend, Colby, expects her to be loyal to him. Pen’s parents expect her to respect them. Not surprisingly, Pen struggles with her relationships with both Colby and her parents. Colby is definitely not the nicest of boys (and that’s putting it rather nicely). Pen’s parents are Portuguese immigrants and there are some language difficulties. But mainly, they don’t understand why Pen can’t be the “normal daughter” they want her to be. The clashes that Pen has with Colby and her parents are so real, and you can really feel the raw emotions as Pen tries to figure out who she is amongst what everyone else expects her to be.

Other notable characters include Pen’s new friend, Olivia, and her new girlfriend, Blake. These two characters are also very real, and the way Girard presents Olivia’s story is especially meaningful. One of my coworkers said she found it super realistic. And Blake is just awesome. There’s no other way to put it.

Then there’s Johnny, Pen’s older brother who has always looked out for her. Johnny takes care of Pen, defends her against their parents who don’t understand her, and lets her steal his clothes. But their relationship is so much more than that and it’s so vital to the story.

gmuAlso, the way that Girard tackles gender is incredible. I feel like even in today’s world, a lot of people still don’t understand the fluidity of gender. For example, Pen is a girl; she knows she’s a girl, but she doesn’t really want to be a girl. She dresses and acts like a boy a lot of the time, and this leads to everyone assuming that she either is a boy or wants to be one. But she doesn’t really want to be a boy either.

She just wants to be herself in a world where people are constantly telling her she has to be someone else. But the world is not made for everyone to fit neatly into little boxes, and Pen certainly breaks the mould. There’s one major important quote from the book I’d like to share:

“I don’t feel wrong inside myself. I don’t feel like I’m someone I shouldn’t be. Only other people make me feel like there’s something wrong with me.”

(HCC Frenzy has ten awesome quotes from Girl Mans Up here.)

I feel like I may not be very well articulating how I feel about this book. And if I’m not making sense, then I apologize. Just know that Girl Mans Up is a real, honest and emotional book about a girl who struggles with all the expectations that others have for her. M-E Girard is a powerful new voice in YA, and this is a story that everyone should read.

Girl Mans Up is available now.