Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard
I love, love, love this book. There is so much excellence I’m not sure where to start.
It is the story of Pen, short for Penelope, a queer first generation Canadian teenager. At the start of the book Pen is doing her best to slide by unnoticed. She avoids fighting with her parents when she can by hiding in the basement where her older brother lives. Her best friend Colby defends her against anyone who bullies her in exchange for her help picking up girls. But when Colby tries to pick up the girl Pen has a crush on, Pen makes a choice for herself. Soon after events in her life start to spiral out of her control, forcing to her to evaluate the decisions she’d made so far, their consequences and man up.
There’s a lot of really, really good things about this book. The tone is great, Pen’s voice is unique and strong and she’s a great character who’s relatable to anyone who’s every felt like an outsider (every single person ever obviously). It’s also a great story of LGBT+ story in a delightful, un-simplistic way. Pen is a lesbian, 100%. Blake, her girlfriend, has dated boys but also dates a woman, implying she’s bi or possibly pan. Pen is very masculine – she cuts her hair short, she dresses in her brother’s hand-me-downs, she loves TMNT and hates Barbies but she also is very sure she’s not transgender. She really recognizes her identity as a masculine woman. But most of this isn’t really stated, it just is. There are scenes that really touch on these issues – for example Pen tells Blake she wants to be touched like a boy – but they aren’t resolved either and as far as all the characters, or at least the sympathetic ones, are concerned, that’s okay. And I think that’s a really good thing. We don’t need every single person to fit into a box.
This book has a lot of really heavy content. Here there be spoilers. The struggles of first generation Canadians are woven throughout the story – Pen struggles with vastly different expectations she has for her own life versus her parents. Language gaps, extended family, food and cultural expectations are woven throughout the book as challenges and advantages for Pen and her brother.
Finally there is some sexual assault. Pen’s internal dialogue does an amazing job of describing her frozen fear, when Colby makes sexual advances on her. Although she clearly doesn’t want them and is not interested in them but she feels like she has no power in their relationship, she’s afraid to find herself without Colby’s friendship so she has to let it happen. It’s really upsetting to read.
There’s also some pretty serious violence, alcohol, drugs and an abortion, which is handled carefully and complexly but is obviously challenging for readers.
I recommend this book enormously, for teens and adults. If younger readers would like to take a stab at it, I’d recommend that too but encourage an adult conversation about some of the content. Just read it, enjoy it and embrace the really satisfying but not completely happy ending.
Last movie I watched:
Thor: Ragnorak. Pretty excellent, I have to say.
Last TV episode I watched:
The Red Tent. I’m actually really enjoying it, although I’m sure the book is better.