Usually our editors hand out what we’re going to review, but after I read this I knew I had to write a review on it for our school paper, The Inkblot. Obviously, the pressure was now on to prove that this review was good enough to compete with the assignments given. To my surprise I ended up having my editors and friends come up asking me to read this book that I could never imagine them picking up. I’m pretty sure I almost died of happiness right there.
I have never wanted to thank my friends for abandoning me in Barnes & Noble more than when I stumbled upon “Girl Mans Up” by M-E Girard. For the first time in years, I picked up a young adult novel that I truly saw as different and not a pre-sold idea that has been rehashed a hundred times before.
The young adult genre has catered towards unrealistic teen romance for years. For the LGBTQ+ youth, the chance of finding a book that represents them is slim to none. For people of color, these numbers are even lower.
The book follows Pen, a Portuguese teenager who presents herself as more “masculine” and likes girls, but has no interest in being a boy. What makes Pen such a strong character is that she knows who she is and what she wants. Her struggles are not internal at all. The conflict in the book stems from tensions between her traditional parents and a toxic relationship with Colby, her manipulative childhood friend.
Pen stole my heart. Her voice feels like that of a real teenager and not some adult trying to connect to the struggles of race, gender and sexuality.
She is the independent lesbian character that teen fiction has been missing for years. Pen realizes that the only way to get people off of her back is to stand up for herself. The loyalty and respect demanded from her friends and family mean nothing if she can not do the same for herself.
As Pen grows into her own identity, readers watch her create new friendships and get the girl. By the end of this book I had formed a crush on Pen myself, as she flips the term “having to man up” from something derogatory to something that gives hope and drive to any person who needs it.