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girl-mans-upWhat: Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard

Who: Katherine Tegen Books

When: September 6th 2016

How: A copy of this novel was provided by HarperCollins for review via Edelweiss.

Like Julie Anne Peters’ Keeping You a Secret, Girl Mans Up is a totally engrossing portrayal of a gay teen’s coming of age. Pen is only comfortable dressing like a boy, but it’s confusing to her friends and unacceptable to her family. And then one day she meets Blake, and little by little, it all begins to make sense.

Pen Oliviera is sort of chunky, an amazing gamer and a girl. Mistaken for a boy in restaurants, bathrooms and everywhere else—all she wants is to be the kind of girl she is.

Pen is used to catching hell for looking and acting like a boy—especially from her parents—but in the Canadian suburbs where she lives, there’s nowhere to escape to. No Greenwich Village. No Castro. No LGBT club at school. No one to talk to, either. Her pal Colby, from two doors down, gave Pen respect from the first time he met her playing hockey when they were small, but Colby has become conflicted about Pen’s value to him, and he’s really nasty. Lucky for Pen—she’s met Blake—also a gamer, and a girl who Pen says “wins everything.” Can Pen manage to respect Colby’s “loyalty code” even though his jealousy of her has become cruel and toxic? Pen has to man up and figure it out.

3cats2I’m not really entirely sure how I feel about Girl Mans Up.

On the one hand, I loved the nuanced look at gender that Girl Mans Up provides. It breaks down the walls of the gender binary, and Pen is just Pen, who still identifies as a girl but dresses and wants to be treated like a boy. At times, however, I wanted more from this. I feel like there could have been a much greater exploration of gender identity and expression, and how the two of them are not synonymous. There were a few passages and phrases that I think could have been worded better, but maybe they were like that because Pen didn’t really have the words to describe her own sense of identity.

The main thing I didn’t love about Girl Mans Up was Pen’s relationship with her best friend, Colby. He’s manipulative, and emotionally abusive, and I just plain do not understand why she was friends with him for so long. Sure, I guess there’s always a little something tethering you to the people you’ve grown up with but he was horrible, and Pen just sat there and took it. I hated that. She was such a strong willed character, and I felt like this relationship with Colby just dragged her down and I don’t understand why she couldn’t see that.

I liked that, once Blake and Pen were together, Pen spoke to Blake several times about the fact that she isn’t a guy, and that she didn’t want Blake to be fooling herself that she was. Blake was 100% okay with it, and it was great to have a bisexual love interest (even though the word wasn’t used) because that is a rare occurrence, and yet so important.

Another thing I appreciated in Girl Mans Up was Pen’s relationship with her brother, Johnny. She was closer to him than anyone else, and I absolutely adored their relationship. The way Johnny was willing to do anything for Pen, and the way he supported her and protected her. Sure, he didn’t always do these things perfectly, but seeing such a great sibling relationship in a book was super enjoyable.

If I’m being entirely honest, there was no real overarching plot to Girl Mans Up, rather interconnecting little plots, which was okay most of the time but sometimes I just wanted a bit more. Even though I know that this book was more of a snap shot into Pen’s life, I just felt like there could have been more to the story than just her changing relationships with friends, family, and romantic interests.

Overall, I liked Girl Mans Up. I think it’s an important book in terms of demonstrating that gender is not binary, and that expression and identity are separate things, but I also wanted a little more of exploration of that in Pen’s story.

© 2016, Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity. All rights reserved.

trigger warning: physical assault, bullying, sexism, emotional abuse, transphobia, homophobia, and abortion in this novel

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Posted on: September 23, 2016 • By: Chiara

11 Responses to Review: Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard

  1. I’m really not loving the writing style of the synopsis, to be honest. Also, I just went to Amazon to read the first few pages of it (did you know that’s a thing you can do? I only found out last week and have been rather fangirly over it ever since), and it doesn’t exactly look like the interior is faring much better in that department. Perhaps this is superficial, but the music in words is so very important to me that it’s hard for me to ignore awkward writing unless the plot/characters are absolutely phenomenal. I think I shall pass this one up, but as always, Chiara, thank you for sharing it with us. I’m glad you enjoyed it. <3

    • Chiara says:

      Yeah, to be honest I quite hate the blurb. OMG I love the Amazon “look inside” feature! It means I can see if the writing style fits me before I buy the book, which is AMAZING. I can’t remember being blown away by the style, I have to say. And since the plot and characters aren’t exactly my favourite, I feel like this one might not be for you. No problem, lovely <3

  2. I am curious about this one! Yay for a bisexual relationship, even if it’s not stated as such. That’s a bummer Pen had a really bad friendship and she just took it since you said she’s such a strong willed character. I mean, I know these things happen, but still. Yay for a good sibling relationship though!

    -Lauren

    • Chiara says:

      I’d recommend it because I haven’t really read a book like it before (or since)! I did think that the fact that Pen stuck by the awful friend was a bit out of character, which was a tad disappointing. But the sibling relationship was AMAZING!

  3. Jackie B. says:

    Well written review. I understand how you could want more about Pen and how she identifies sexually, as well as a deeper exploration of gender fluidity. I, personally, struggle with really understanding the dynamics of this and would love to see writers take this further, as well. However, do you think going further would make the concept unrealistic? It seems like extremes are the most effective for communicating a message, but that doesn’t mean it’s a solid representation. Just curious your opinion.

    • Chiara says:

      Thank you! I do see criticisms of books that explore identity, saying that they read more like an information pamphlet than a story. But I think that there was definitely room for the main character in this book to think about identity, and what labels (if any, and if she wanted to use them) fit her. Exploration like this could have added an extra level of understanding for readers, both in terms of the gender binary and the main character herself. I’m not sure if the author IDs as outside of the gender binary in any way, but I would say that maybe a nuanced look at gender and the gender binary should come from an #ownvoices author, to bring that lived experience and good representation.

  4. verushka says:

    This is a book I’ve seen around recently, and yours is the first review of it I’ve read. I can understand the need for something more in this story from what you’ve said in your review, but I’m glad there’s much in this to enjoy — you’re right, stories like this are important and need to be told.

    • Chiara says:

      I am very glad for the existence of this novel! I really hope that more books that feature characters who exist outside of the gender binary are published because there are so many things to explore.

  5. Ooh I’ve spotted this around so it was really interesting to hear your thoughts on it! I’d really like to read more books exploring identities outside of the gender binary. If I can still get hold of it, I’d like to try it, although from what you’ve said about the lack of overarching plot I feel as though I might think it’s a bit ‘eh’. (Very articulate from me, as ever!) Aah thanks so much for sharing! <3

    • Chiara says:

      I hope you like it if you do get around to reading it, Eve! I definitely appreciate books that explore gender beyond the binary, which this one did (although I wish there had been a little bit more discourse). No problem lovely <3

  6. Romi says:

    I feel like this could have been such a spectacular read – not just “good” or “okay” or anything, really, except amazing. While it’s fairly hard to find lgbtiqa+ books, finding books about a specific sexuality, gender identity or experience is even harder, and I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where a character explores the gender binary and how they feel about themselves within it. I feel like that alone, a story comprised of that entire experience – whether it be the discovery story or all that takes place after that discovery – would be wonderful and is definitely something I want, and even though that isn’t really what this book was focusing on I still feel a little sad it didn’t go into greater depth on that. Because, reading your review, I realise afresh how much I want these stories that I’m struggling to find, and seeing a book that comes even a little bit close to something I want makes me want it all the more.

    I do really like the sound of the way two elements of this story were done: Pen and Blake’s relationship and the fact Pen, at least, talked about who she was and how she felt and was honest about that, because so often a lack of honesty is the driving drama point in YA and it’s always nice when characters are just up front with each other, no matter how hard it is. I do appreciate it when that happens, and characters who love each other also completely trust each other.
    I’m also keen on the sound of Pen’s relationship with her brother. Before, I just ~liked~ the sibling/family relationship aspect that would appear in stories, but recently I’ve fallen completely in love with it and want to see it everywhere, and I’m happy to hear that was a point in Girl Mans Up that you enjoyed, Chiara.

    Lovely review, sweetie! xx

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