Title: Girl Mans Up
Author: M-E Girard
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books, 2016
Themes: gender, queer, gender fluidity, LGBTQIA, Portuguese Canadians, friendship, loyalty, respect, family dynamics
Received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review
There are four of us dudes sitting here right now, and I kick all of their butts when it comes to video games- and I’m not even a dude in the first place.
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 (Goodreads).
Why I like this book:
This story is a hit for me from the title onwards. As a teen I would so have related to Pen’s struggle to express her gender identity–wanting to look more masculine while still identifying as a girl. I would not however have had the knowledge nor sensitivity in the 80’s that Pen has of correcting the transphobic people in her life who mis-label her and yet doing so in a way that embraces the trans community. Girard tackles the space between the binaries and not wanting to conform to the norms of our genders with sensitivity and compassion in this novel.
It is so cool to see a female protagonist struggling to express herself in a masculine way through means that are not all ‘traditionally’ male. Watching Pen grow into her identity while also dealing with a toxic home environment based on archaic gender and societal norms was both painful and satisfying. Girard doesn’t hold back on the narrow mindedness of the parents both towards Pen and their son, entrenched as they are in the norms of their subculture and their own needs to be accepted there. Some readers will certainly find their own suffocating home experiences in these pages.
Though she doesn’t always quite know how to define herself Pen’s self confidence in her gender expression is refreshing. I did find it hard to have much empathy for Colby, her best friend, but appreciated his role in the story as one who for Pen at least validates her queerness.
Two balancing and rewarding secondary characters are Pen’s older brother (also bucking cultural norms in his own way) and Blake, the girl she hooks up with. Girard offers a stark and needed contrast between Blake’s accepting home life and Pen’s stifling one. Their romance is hawt, funny and enduring, which is a huge plus in this story.
There’s a good smattering of action but truly it is a character driven novel for me, and the cast is full and well developed. I appreciate the geeky girls just hanging out, playing games with their friends, chatting about their varied interests, sharing experiences. Just a super great portrayal of female friendships.
This is a terrific addition to the (LGBTQIA) YA shelves. It is a compelling novel and one I read in one sitting. I believe many teens will eagerly read Pen’s story too. We still need the coming out stories but I welcome a a protagonist who is already out but her entourage can’t always accept it. It’s also neat to see a lesbian couple that is in love, and proud to be.
It’s okay to feel bad about how things went down, but it’s not okay to drown in guilt and regret every day for having made decisions other people don’t agree with. At some point we all have to man up and decide to do what we have to do, despite the people around us who try to get in the way.”
- There is a great list of genderqueer/non-binary resources here: Tumblr Transgender Teen Survival Guide.
- Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line
- Gender identity links | Kids Help Phone
- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Queer identified People and Mental …
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