REVIEW: Girl Mans Up

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.

Title: Girl Mans Up
Author: M-E Girad
Published: September 2016
Genre: YA/LGBTQA+
Rating: ★★★★★

I’m struggling to get all my thoughts together for this book. Mostly because I didn’t take notes when I definitely should’ve because whoo-boy this book is just…. it’s wow. Just read it okay? I suppose that isn’t exactly enough to convince you so I’ll try to actually put a more coherent spin on this one.

I was actually surprised with just how much Girard was able to talk about in this book. Of course at the core of it all we’ve got Pen, a gay girl who’s struggling with her gender-identity and what it means to be a girl; both in the traditional sense (stereotypes pushed onto her by her mother and classmates) and in the non-traditional sense.

Add to all of this everything else Pen is going through; a broken relationship with her parents, her brother being forced out of their home, toxic friends she’s desperate to leave behind, and the girl of her dreams noticing her. Add all of that together and Pen’s got herself in a bit of a bind.

Really there are lessons here to be learned by anyone. In recent months I myself have been struggling with my own identity and my desire to express myself through means that are not ‘traditionally’ male. I felt like Pen did, in this sort of strange in between of the binaries, not wanting to conform to the norms of our genders.

And her parents, whew boy. Towards the end of the book there comes this moment between Pen and her parents. I’m not going to spoil it, but after 300 pages of suffering through their emotional abuse and their desire to hoist their realities upon her, Pen’s had enough. I almost cried read that scene because

1. I’m an easy crier when it comes to books

and 2. It encapsulated just how I felt about my own parents. What it means to hate the people who brought you into this world, who gave you what they could. Only to have them turn on you for living your own life.

It struck me hard.

All throughout the book I was so frustrated and so angry with Pen’s parents because I was seeing my own. They might not be as vocal as Pen’s when it comes to the norms I’m expected to subscribe to, but it’s evident in their voice and when I wear any color that may be construed as ‘girly’. It made me wish I had my own Johnny to run to, a brother who accepted me so long as I was happy with what I was doing.

Girard also has a lot to say about the toxic friendships we form, and how it’s not always easy to just drop someone, especially in high school. Your lives become intertwined with one another, so even if you’re fully aware that this person isn’t good for you, sometimes you just can’t stop yourself. Sometimes it’s hard to just let people go, and I feel like it’s done in a very realistic way here.

Okay, because this book isn’t all heavy topics, we’ve also got one of the cutest relationships I’ve ever read about. Again, no spoilers but it’s just so cute and so refreshing. Pen’s already out so we don’t get any gay panic or anything like that. These two girls are out and proud and ready to love another another and it’s just so freaking sweet.

Long story short, because it’s been an uphill climb trying to make all my thoughts on this wondrous book make any sense. It’s a book where women aren’t ashamed to love other women and learn to be who they truly are, it even comes with a happy ending!!!

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