Book review: Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard

Title: Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard

Publisher: HarperCollins

Publication date: 6 Sept 2016

Genre: Contemporary| Young adult

Page extent: 400 pages

Goodreads blurb: 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.

I really struggled to decide how to rate this book – there were parts I really liked and parts I really didn’t. I struggled a little to get through the book, given the misogynistic language from the main character, but there was a really great brother-sister relationship, and a unique exploration of gender in a way I haven’t seen previously.

The book follows Pen, a girl who doesn’t want to be seen as a girly girl. She likes gaming and cuts her hair short, and wants to be seen as one of the boys (even though she doesn’t want to be a boy). We follow Pen as she becomes friends with her best friend Colby’s ex, and finds a girlfriend of her own. The book has some quite deep content discussing gender, sexuality, teen pregnancy, sexual assault, and homophobia.

Let’s start with the good. I don’t think I’ve ever read someone like Pen in YA before, so this does give a very unique look at gender fluidity. Pen’s struggle throughout the book to be who she wants as her school, her friends and her parents all fight against her is at times difficult to read. She faces a lot of discrimination and hate – all her friends and parents are truly awful. Pen does grow throughout the book as she realises how to stand up for herself and be true to her identity.

I also loved the excellent brother-sister relationship. Johnny was probably my favourite character. He’s a very protective brother but not in one of those really terrible ‘I know better than you’ ways. He’s protective of her but still allows her to have agency and be herself. I also thought Blake was great – I loved how their relationship developed, it was very cute!

Unfortunately, I found most of my main complains about the story with Pen herself. Pen has some very misogynistic views, regularly using words like ‘pussy’ as an insult, and thinking girly girls are lesser than her. Whilst Pen becomes friends with a more ‘girly’ girl, I don’t really think these views were challenged much. I also just generally thought Pen wasn’t a very nice person. Despite the excellent brother, Pen isn’t very nice to him until the very end of the book, always shouting at him and using him as a barrier between her and her parents – in Johnny’s words, being ‘a hotheaded little idiot’. Her friends are also just awful people, and Pen is perfectly fine with this and their treatment of others – including one of her oldest friends! – until it begins to affect her more directly.

I was really disappointed with this book, I expected to enjoy it a lot more. For a book that has such great gender rep to then have equally bad gender rep, it just didn’t work for me. But a big shout-out to a really great older brother. Oh, I did also like all the video game references! Blake trying to get Pen to like Zelda was awesome.

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

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