By: Hannah Rapp, Young Adult Librarian
Once again, I’ve found a great audiobook to talk about in this edition of What I Just Read. Solid contemporary, with relatable (if sometimes infuriating) characters, with my favorite elements of family, friendship, and a pretty awesome main character.
What I Just Read: Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard
What’s It About (Jacket Description): 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.
Do I Like It: Totally.
Thoughts: Girl Mans Up is somehow a perfect example of everything contemporary realistic YA books should be, and yet also something totally unique (at least in my reading experience). It has all the elements I want from my realistic fiction — a compelling main character, conflict that is real and not forced, multi-layered and well developed supporting characters, deep and complicated relationships, and some great dialogue. But I’ve also never met characters quite like Pen, her older brother Johnny, or her exceptionally hate-able best friend Colby.
At its core, Girl Mans Up is about Pen learning to exist independently of the people around her. She’s spent most of her life friends with Colby, who has very specific ideas about how friendship works and how to treat women. Her parents want her to be a traditional Portuguese daughter, which runs counter to who Pen feels she is. She leans on her older brother Johnny for companionship, acceptance, and protection from her parents. But as the book progresses, all these layers of influence and shelter are stripped away, until Pen has to learn to stand on her own feet, and make her own judgments. It’s a rocky road, but reading about it was so immersive, and Pen’s journey was so relatable to anyone of any gender who has had a rocky road to independence.
Along the way of Pen’s journey, we get a great supporting cast of character. One of things I think Girard did best was to really show why Pen is friends with Colby in the first place. As a reader, it’s easy to hate him (in fact, it’s practically mandatory to hate him) but we do get glimpses of the fun Pen and Colby have together, the times he’s come through for her, and the things they have in common. It makes it believable that Pen would stick around for so long despite his jerkiness. Pen’s older brother Johnny has his own issues, but his unwavering love and support for Pen are among the highlights of the book, and the Johnny scenes are a huge relief after the frustrations of reading about Colby. Pen’s oldest friend Tristan, new friend, Olivia, and girlfriend, Blake, are also well-developed characters who each have their own story, and their own way of relating to Pen, which makes them interesting to read about.
Girl Mans Up is a great blend of drama, coming-of-age, romance, and family. Add in some almost uncomfortably realistic dialogue and an incredible narrative voice, Pen’s complete awesomeness (despite some flaws like her terminal hot-headedness), and Emma Galvin’s fantastic narration, and I couldn’t wait to get back in my car and keep listening. Girl Mans Up is a perfect choice for anyone looking for a good contemporary read or coming-of-age story.