Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard.
Genre: Young Adult – Contemporary.
Pub. Date: September 6, 2016.
Sent by the Author.
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.
Personal Enjoyment: ●●●●●
Writing Style: ●●●●●
Disclaimer: I was sent an unsolicited advance copy of this book by the author. All opinions are my own.
I put this book on my wishlist as soon as I saw the cover reveal. I have been tweeting about it incessantly and obnoxiously. So it’s really no surprise that I absolutely devoured this book after emerging from my weird summer reading slump.
Girl Mans Up is such a necessary addition to LGBTQ+ YA. If you’ve never read a Portuguese protagonist, you need this book. If you’ve never read a butch lesbian protagonist, you need this book. If you’ve never read a f/f romance between badass gamer girls, you need this book.
Pen was such a strong narrator– her voice was unmistakable and instantly likable. Typically in LGBT+ lit, characters struggle to find their own identity; Pen’s struggle was instead with other people’s perception of her identity and the weight of trying to fit into others’ expectations while remaining true to herself. Pen embraces herself and who she is practically from the get-go, and the story that follows is one of her taking control of her life. Her story was expressed with honesty, humor, and overwhelming authenticity.
However, that authenticity touches on something of a sensitive topic within the LGBT+ YA community: the use of homophobic/transphobic slurs in storytelling. It’s a device that is used most often as a shortcut to make villainous characters look villainous. Some have argued that slurs are an entirely unnecessary part of storytelling that should be cut out. But erasing those words from a narrative with such a visibly queer character in a Catholic high school and within gamer culture(!) would feel inauthentic to me. I am not particularly sensitive to language, so your mileage may vary, but even at its worst I am hesitant to say that the language used was unnecessary or overdone.
The worst offender was Pen’s longtime best friend, Colby, and his crew. I swear, I have not hated a character so much since Dolores Umbridge. His actions are irresponsible, inconsiderate, immature, and cowardly. But at the same time, he showed hints of having been a good friend to Pen. Colby changes and grows, but in the absolute worst of ways. He grows more selfish, more desperate, more volatile. Every time he showed up on-page, I wanted to yell: “How dare you!”
In contrast, the growing friendship between Pen and Olivia and the romance between Pen and Blake were the most healthy and respectful relationships I’ve seen in a long time. Blake was such an endearing love interest, a pretty and badass gamer girl who loved Pen for everything she was. I loved that there was no unnecessary drama in the relationship– even when jealousy reared up, Pen and Blake actually communicated and trusted each other. Pen and Olivia meshed so well as friends: they understood the importance of having each others’ backs and taking care of each other.
Sidenote: all my review notes about Olivia just say “she’s actual perfection. She is precious.” Super helpful, past-Alexis.
Girl Mans Up delivered such a complex view of family dynamics. It’s difficult to discuss Pen’s relationship with her parents and her brother without delving straight into spoilers, but I was never in any doubt that they loved each other. Sometimes family doesn’t love you in the “right” way, or in the way that you prefer, but though this story didn’t serve up an idyllic home life, it left me feeling optimistic and hopeful for the future of Pen’s relationship with her parents.
Y’all. I loved this book so much. I think it’s so important. I could go on about these characters for hours and still feel like I’m only scratching the surface of how I feel about this book. Girl Mans Up comes out on September 6. Read it, love it, get back to me and we’ll talk more.