For What It's Worth

For What It's Worth

Thursday, September 1, 2016

review: girl mans up by m-e girard




28217802All 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. ~ Goodreads

Source: ARC provided by the publisher via ALA16




Review:

What an exciting time for contemporary YA! Every book I’ve read this summer has hit it out of the park and you can add Girl Mans Up to that list.
Girl Mans Up is an important (gah I HATE using that term but it’s true & I’ll expand on why in a minute), honest and thought provoking exploration of gender identity, loyalty, friendship and family.

Pen, a 16 year old girl who likes to wear guys clothes, play video games, and likes girls, has been friends with Colby since they were 9. Mostly because he accepts her as she is, lets her be one of the guys but under his protection, keeps her off the radar of people who would bully her for not conforming to what they believe a girl should be.

But being Colby’s friend comes with a price. To be friends with Colby you must be loyal and his version of loyalty means acting as his wingman to pick up a never ending stream of girls. This has never really bothered Pen until she befriends Olivia – one of Colby’s castaways and starts a romance with Blake, a girl that Colby had picked as his next target. A girl that can see right through Colby’s bs and is more interested in Pen.

As Pen’s friendships collide along with the mounting pressure from her traditional Portuguese family to act *normal* to make her – meaning their – lives easier, Pen has to decide what is right for her and what true loyalty means.

This book does such a wonderful job on so many fronts. Pen is a flawed protagonist, who hangs with the wrong crowd and sees that it isn’t working anymore but struggles to cut the ties completely while dealing with parents that are increasingly hostile to her. She doesn’t always do the right thing the first time but she tries and tries again when she gets it wrong.

There is romance but it’s not the main focus. The friendship between Pen and Olivia was a much stronger element as was her relationship with her brother Johnny. It was a nice balance not often seen in YA. It’s also great to find more LGBQTIA that isn’t tragic. Pen has a lovely, healthy romance with Blake and cuts out a path that allows her to stay true to herself and be happy.

As for the term “mans up”. Girard attempts to flip the term and explore it’s many meanings but at times ends up feeding into the masculine/feminine stereotypes without nuance. Even so A++++ for portraying Pen in all her glorious, imperfect complexity and discussing gender fluidity in a way that I haven't read before.

Some of the repetitive slang (mostly from Blake) got irritating – like righteous and you win at everything – etc but then I remembered my dad wanting to pull his hair out when I went through my calling everything cute phase lol So maybe that’s just what teens do and I’ll overlook it.

So the preachy *this book is important part* I truly believe it’s important to see yourself represented in media and Pen’s gender fluidity, her experiences – both good and bad – will help countless teens.

I seem to be reading a lot of YA recently that brings me back to my not so wonderful teen days in the 80’s (many, many moons ago) but I knew a Pen when I was 16. I’ll call her Joss (not her real name). She was lesbian, she was butch, she was confused and she was the sweetest girl you would meet. But her parents didn’t understand her and sent her to electric shock therapy, boys in the neighborhood that had grown up with her – had been her friends – gang raped her to *fix* her. She was suicidal and ended up an alcoholic (LGBQT suicide statistics). She didn’t know anyone like her – she thought she was broken and I have to believe that books like these help. Imagine if she could have read about Pen. Sure she’s a fictional character but knowing that her experiences are real and that she wasn't alone, that she could fall in love, that she would meet people who didn’t care about what she wore or who she liked. They’ll accept her as is. That’s literally life saving.

I think this book is just as important for parents though. Pen’s parents wanted her life to be easy (understandable) so they wanted her to dress like a girl so she wouldn’t get picked on. They continuously victim blamed her when people did horrible things like cornering her in a dressing room when she was younger to see her genitals to prove what gender she was, or name calling, harassment. I can’t imagine ever rejecting a child over these things but maybe being able to at least read about it from their point of view and to see what their struggles are could help. Or I hope so anyway.

Well written, original debut. I can't wait to read more by this author.

I'll end with this wonderful quote from Pen - it was from the arc so it may change in the final copy.

"People should just be allowed to look in the mirror and see all kinds of possibilities. Everyone should be able to feel nice when they look in the mirror. They should at least be able to see themselves reflected in there, even if they look all weird."

19 comments:

  1. Oh gosh that story. I mean your friend's. And I'm sure there were - and still are - many more like her.
    I've read a few reviews of this book, and they point out the same flaws you did - the slang and the stereotypes. (But you condoned the former in a..."cute" way LOL). Still I guess they can be overlooked in the name of the overall message. It's great that there's a F/F friendship as well, because the old myth that every lesbian or gay individual sees people of their same sex as "preys" must be teared to pieces. I don't remember the reviews I read addressing the friendship, though they mentioned the brother.
    I might consider reading this one.
    BTW, another book with a butch lesbian protagonist that I've read (with less drama though) is "Deliver Us from Evie" by M.E. Kerr - look it up :).

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    1. Yeah - it was awful for her. I'm glad she trusted me enough to share everything. We were only casual acquaintances/neighbors and those boys *had* been my friends too. People can be so awful. And not being able to trust and go to your own parents to keep you safe is devastating.

      I'm surprised no one mentioned Pen's relationship with Olivia. Aside from her brother it's probably the most important one in the book. It's the catalyst for a lot of Pen's revelations about Colby (there's a bigger story there but I didn't want to spoil anything but it's another *important* (lol) thing that is't talked about much in YA)and Olivia is her first female friend.

      I'll check out DUfE. I think I've heard of it before.

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    3. Only a couple of the reviews I've read mentioned the female friendship - and I assumed they were talking about Pen's love interest before things developed and the two got together. The name "Olivia" was mentioned once, but I didn't know who she was. I suppose the majority of the readers focused on Pen's coming-of-age and her crush.

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    4. That's one of things I liked so much about this book. All of Pen's relationships - both good and bad - were given full weight. They were all important to/for her for different reasons.That'as kind of rare.

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  2. Sooo late, new worktime, le sigh ;)

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  3. First of all, I'm so sorry to hear that story about your friend. It is absolutely horrible and I bet that poor girl was not and is not alone. Second, this book really does sound amazing and I definitely want to read it. I think teens and their talk can be annoying, lol.

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    1. It's a great story. And yes, my friend found a girlfriend and better people to be around. Ironically her gf was my bf's neighbor. :-)

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  4. I'm so, totally, totally nervous to try Contemporary because I don't know what to expect but this one seems like it has a lot of good drama going on. It also seems that the characters are just POPPING off the pages which is SO EPICALLY EPICAL! <3I like that the romance doesn't take center stage but I wish there was more of it too, you know? I know.. I know.. I'M SO HARD TO PLEASE. PFFT.

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    1. You haven't read any? You should give it a try. The books are hitting it out of the park right now with realistic, contemporary YA.

      The romance was cute in this so I think you would like it. It's just that Pen has a lot of different types of relationships that are just as important.

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  5. I'm glad you've been having such a knock out time with reads this summer. It's always exciting hitting a slew of those :)

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    1. Yeah - these types of books have totally saved me from a summer reading funk.

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  6. That's a great quote. I hope it's in the final version. I haven't heard a lot about this one, so thanks so much for your lovely review. This is an important topic and it sounds like it was done really well. Thanks for sharing the story of the girl you knew back in high school too. That's awful what she went through, but it shows why books like these are something that NEED to be published.

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    1. I think you would love this one Lauren! I hope you give it a try.

      I hate when adults try to censor these stories to *protect* teens. I think think the literally save lives. Just because an adult doesn't want to know or approve of what's happening doesn't mean it isn't.

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  7. This sounds like an important read for so many reasons. I wish more books like this would be taught IN the classrooms... or at least be featured in libraries. I do think the slang would bother me, but I've had a few books like that and said the same thing you did... it is the generation thing (are we going to start to yell at kids on the lawn yet? LOL) On a sad note, I'm sorry to hear that about your friend. Sounds like a lot of people around her needed a swift kick and some prison time. :(

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    1. I'm trying really hard to let teen slang go because it's real - even if it annoys me lol

      It makes me so mad when people do horrifying things to *protect* others from people who are just trying to live their lives in a loving way. Who cares?? YOU are the danger!

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  8. So happy this was such a great book and that it had depth to it as well. Slang can be tough but, yeah, it is very real too and I don't see it going anywhere anytime soon. ;)
    Wonderful review for this and thanks for putting it on my radar!

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  9. Such a gorgeously written review, Karen! I'm glad we felt the same way about this one. It's such a small book, but big and yes, important in so many ways.

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