Girl Mans Up
by M-E Girard
read from October 31th to November 5th
Goodreads rating: ★★★★★
actual rating: 4.5/5
rating explained: I rarely give five stars. Still, I need to stop being so critical and admit I enjoyed something. My honest rating probably isn’t that high, but I need to get over myself.
diversity: lesbian main character, bisexual side character, Asian side character, immigrants, gender ‘issues’
disclaimer: I am cisgender and a (closeted) bisexual girl
My expectations for Girl Mans Up were high. Even though only one of my Goodreads friends had read this, I wanted to love it. And I did! I’d recommend this to everyone and I hope it will receive the recognition it deserves.
Event though I won’t put it on my shelf with favourite books, I decided to round up the rating to five stars. There were a couple of things I really appreciated, I couldn’t rate it any less. So, let’s start up with the things I loved:
I deliberately look for books which feature LGBTQ themes and characters. Sadly, just like TV shows, most of those characters are gay men. It’s great that they get the representation they deserve, but I’m also looking for books with e.g. F/F relationships. And I’m so thankful I finally discovered one! Furthermore, this is not only about a lesbian, but also features a bisexual side character!
When I started this book, her male friends really bothered me. I hated them!!! I will get into my reasons later, but I was so happy when Pen replaced those assholes with female friends instead. The female friendships were so pure and beautiful.
Generally in YA contemporaries, the main character gets bullied by the bitchy prom queen. Thankfully, that was not the case in Girl Mans Up! Instead, it was the other way around: it exposed straight white boys for how horrible they can be.
Which leads me to Pen’s character development. I cannot thank the author enough for showing her how awful her male friends were. I was really worried Pen was going to stay with them no matter what and I would’ve hated the book if that had been the case.
Pen never really came out of the closet. It’s not like she was being very open about her sexual orientation, but she didn’t exactly hide it either. And I absolutely love that. Straight people don’t have to do it, so why should queers? I don’t imagine I would ever sit down with my parents and tell them about my sexual orientation. They’d realise it when I start dating a girl.
Besides dealing with sexual orientation, this book also discusses gender. Once again, I am cisgender, so absolutely no expert on the subject.
I love that it was stressed numerous times that Pen wasn’t transgender. When she looks in the mirror, she doesn’t see a boy in a girl’s body. Instead, she sees someone the way she should look. It’s other people who make her feel like there’s something wrong with her.
Having said that, I didn’t like how that sometimes was expressed at the expense of girls. I absolutely hate it when people say ‘to man up’. It’s said numerous times in the book (it’s even in the title) and it indicates as if being a girl isn’t good enough. As if girls can’t be assertive. Maybe I’m wrong here, once again, I’m no expert on gender, but that bothered me. Why not say ‘woman up’ instead? I mean, I get it because Pen is more masculine, but I wish she had expressed it in a different way.
However, that is nothing compared to the stuff Pen’s friend said. Prepare for a rant! I take notes while reading and I must have written down about a hundred times how much I hated Colby (and Garrett). Here are just a couple of reasons why they are pieces of shit:
You know how some scenes in YA contemporaries are unbelievably dramatic? Sure, there was drama in Girl Mans Up too, but the way these straight white boys behave, is so real. I literally gasped out loud multiple times.
We all know people like Colby and Garrett. They are the kind of boys who would vote for Donald Trump because they only care about their own rights. They are the kind of boys who would get a girl drunk at a party and have sex with her. They are the kind of boys who treat others like objects and think they can get away with it.
I’m not making this up. At one point, Colby actually pretends to pee on a woman to ‘mark her as his’. He also gives Pen advice on women, which is the most ridiculous thing ever. First of all, she is a woman herself, so already knows better than you. Second of all, he is a sexist, homophobic and biphobic asshole, who has zero respect for anyone else.
But when he sexually assaulted Pen, I absolutely couldn’t take it anymore. He knows she is gay. Not bisexual. Yet he tried to convince her to have sex with him. It was so disrespectful, not to mention homophobic, I was actually crying.
I could go on, but I think I’ve proven my point. For a long time, Pen didn’t confront her friends. On the one hand, I wish she would call them out on their problematic behaviour, so I knew she didn’t condone it. But I, on the other hand, don’t always confront people in real life either. He even used slurs like d*ke and she didn’t tell him off.
Thankfully, Pen realised how awful they were and decided to hang out with the girls instead. Blake and Olivia were pure angels and I absolutely loved them!
Furthermore, this book does not only deal with sexual orientation and gender, but also with e.g. parents who want to control their children because they think they know what is best for them. If you force your child to change who they are, you don’t really love them. Don’t act as if you are protecting them from what others will say. If you truly love your kids, you’ll confront the ones who are being horrible, instead of trying to change your child.
spoiler: Another topic that was covered was [teen pregnancy and abortion. I am pro-choice and was very happy that Olivia’s choice was respected and wasn’t used as a plot-device to e.g. create drama at school). end of spoiler
Finally, there were to more things I didn’t like. First off, Olivia and her male friends smoked weed. I don’t want to seem like a nun, but I get so uncomfortable reading about that. Why do teens in YA contemporaries need to do drugs in order for them to seem ‘cool’ and ‘chill’? My father is a cop, so that’s probably the reason why I feel so strongly about this.
Sometimes, Pen sexualised Blake and that made me very uncomfortable. She is not a sex object. Please don’t lust or fantasise over someone. That’s one of the reasons why I rarely pick up YA contemporaries featuring male leads, because they do that too and it pisses me off.
conclusion: Girl Mans Up is a diverse YA contemporary and also manages to stand out because it doesn’t use the same tropes as most books within its genre. Although I have a few remarks, I still loved it and would recommend it to everyone!