Goodreads rating: 4.10
Something you’ve probably noticed about me: I have a soft spot for stories where teenagers try to work out where they belong in the world. In Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard we follow the difficult transitional period from child to adult of Pen, a masculine girl who struggles with her gender identity and romantic interests. Despite what might seem like a complex subject, the story is a simple coming-of-age tale that resonates across its genre.
Pen wears her brother’s clothes and spends her days hanging out with a group of guys who pretty much forget that she’s a girl. This, in times past, would probably signal a romantic comedy where one of the guys realises that Pen is a girl when she takes off her glasses/goes to prom/etc and they live happily ever after, but that tired old trope is flipped on its head here. As Pen begins falling for another girl she fights to find her place among her friends, and even deciding if they were her friends after all.
I can’t imagine a book being published like this ten years ago. Maybe not even five years ago, honestly. As our attitude toward gender opens up as much in the mainstream as it has in LGBTQ groups, stories like this come out and give a wider range of kids the chance to see themselves reflected in fiction.
One day I’ll write about why that’s so important.
For now, we’ll stick to the book itself. Pen is a lovable character, brittle and sullen a she is (after all, she is a teenager). The supporting cast feel realistic and layered rather than standing as a backdrop for Pen’s adventures, and that gives the story richness. It is a quick, easy read, but there’s a lot of emotion packed into those pages.
Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard was one of my favourite reads in 2016. If you’re a fan of queer YA books or a generally good story, keep an eye out for the striking cover at your bookstore.