Well, 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)
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.
Also, 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.