Release date: September 6, 2016
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.
Girl Mans Up is about a gender-fluid girl; a coming of age story about how even if you figure yourself out, society is always there to give you a hard time. First of all, being queer is a big challenge, and then even when being out and proud about it, people around you try to fit you into their ideals. I mean, the latter is more or less common to teenagers, but when your own identity is being challenged, it becomes too much to bear. Pen has the same problem – she is a girl who likes being a boy; it is not that she is transgender, its just that she prefers to be masculine than feminine. Her identity is being the girl that feels comfortable dressing up like a boy, hanging out with boys, and playing video games and generally being not a girl. Her childhood friend, Colby is a big jerk to others, especially girls, but to his friends he acts like they all are so loyal and bound to each other; she has been used to this code of bro-hood or whatever since she was a kid so she doesn’t see the problem now either. So going along with this toxic masculinity, she never stands up for herself; more so, because he is one of the people who doesn’t have an issue with her acting like a boy, and protects her from bullies she can’t handle.
But the bullying doesn’t end with just peers. I think it is very good that the novel recognizes that family also can bully you – her parents are always on her case to act like a lady; her mother regularly manipulates Pen into feeling bad for not being what her mother expects of her. But she is also firm in not changing herself for others – something I really appreciated; she can’t fight but she doesn’t back down either. When she becomes sort-of friends with an ex of Colby’s who he basically steamrolled over, she starts to break away from his evil group, and starts finding herself in new friends and a new love. I appreciated how the relationships were depicted in this book – whether they were good and toxic, and how they affected Pen’s actions. The writing was a bit superfluous at times, getting hanged up in unnecessary details like clothes and settings, but otherwise, it was decently paced and keeps you reading.
The ending was okay, I guess, since my grudge-keeping ass can’t believe people were let off the hook so easy. I was angry at so many points in the book – for Pen, for how she was treated; it perhaps is the best indicator of how much I liked the book when it made me feel so much. I felt Pen remaking each relationship for herself in the end was a big step in her character development. Overall, it is a great book – with a diverse point-of-view, and an insightful and thoughtful story.
Received a free galley from HarperTeen, via Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.