Author: M-E Girard
Released: September 6th 2016
Length: 384 pages
Length: 384 pages
Source: Publisher for review
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, M-E Girard’s astonishingly honest book, might just be one of the best things that happened to YA fiction in a very, very long time. There have been books about gay, lesbian and trans teens, but I don’t think there are many, and certainly not this good, about genderqueer characters. Written with a light hand and breathtaking emotion, Girl Mans Up shows us how damaging traditional gender roles can be.
Pen doesn’t quite meet the expectations of her traditional family or the teachers of her catholic school. She is a girl, but she is only comfortable with her hair short, her clothes loose and doing things that are traditionally viewed as “men’s work”. She doesn’t feel like a boy in girl’s skin, she is quite comfortable with who she is, but the people around her, her parents included, are making her life a lot harder than it needs to be.
Then I realized I don’t have to be trans to still confuse people with the way I look. I had my hair then. Now, there’s nothing left that makes me a girl, except for the fact that I am one.
The best thing about Pen is that she is quite comfortable in her own skin. She has no doubts about her identity, gender or otherwise. Her problems come from the discrepancy between who she is and how the society sees her. She doesn’t fit into any of the expected roles, therefore she needs to be cast out, changed or made to fit some stereotype, at least.
During the course of this book, Pen deals with everything from whispers and gossip to outright bullying. She finds very little true acceptance for who she is, but she does find it in her brother Johnny, her girlfriend Blake and several new friends. Pen’s relationship with her older brother Johnny is a true thing of beauty. At one point, she calls him her friend, her brother, her parent, and he really is all those things. He is pure acceptance, the epitome of unconditional love with plenty of patience and a few flaws that merely make him more real.
There is also a very healthy relationship between two girls that has a supporting role and changes things for Pen. Blake’s only dated boys before falling for Pen, but she is attracted to Pen exactly for who she is. Several friendships are born in this book and several others die in flames. All of them, as well as Pen’s thoughts om them, come across as genuine, realistic slices of teenage existence.
I don’t want to be her girlfriend, though. But there’s this part of me that totally knows I could be her boyfriend. I don’t want her to think of me as a boy, or a boy substitute, though. I want to be a boyfriend who is a girl. I have no idea how to explain that stuff to anyone, let alone a girl I like. I just wish it was already understood.
This book should be required reading in every high school, not only because of Pen’s gender identity and the society’s acceptance, but also because of the healthy lesbian relationship, wonderful friendships, and the example of a non-traditional, supportive family.
A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes. No considerations, monetary or otherwise, have influenced the opinions expressed in this review.