Book Review – Girl Mans Up

girl mans upIt made my day when I won Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard in a giveaway from the author’s agent. I think it might have been the week that Kellyanne Conway went off about spying microwaves; it certainly was a week full of leaking pipelines, mean-spirited healthcare legislation, and devious Russian espionage. Girl Mans Up was a welcome reminder of the possibility of normalcy in this country, and for that I was extremely grateful.

For fun, I typically read broody Scandinavian mysteries, modern queer fiction, or biographies of dykes behaving badly. I’m queer myself and write adult queer fiction. I’m the grandparent of a 10-year-old transgender grandson, so am interested in any fiction for youth that features masculine-of-center characters, particularly books that I can buy him. He goes to a progressive school where there are trans and butch classmates and parents, and needs YA queer fiction for entertainment. Having said that, this is the first YA queer fiction that I’ve ever read.

Girl Mans Up is well written. I particularly appreciated the culture clashes between Pen’s parents and Pen, even towards the end when her mom comes around, but her dad remains reluctant. That is realistic. I enjoyed the Olivia’s natural reaction to her unplanned pregnancy and to her abortion. It would have been a cheap and easy shot to have her feel regret after getting her abortion, not relief, but M-E held true. The actual day of the abortion contained just the right combination of accuracy, emotional growth, and sadness. The turning point for Pen was when she stood up for her identity and moved in with her brother, and Olivia’s moment was her abortion. Growing up is a process, and these were peaks in that process.

The ratio of drama to placid everyday life was high, but these are teenagers, where they are living in that intense and awkward period of bursting into adulthood while being riddled with hormones. It’s an emotionally challenging time to say the least. There was something off with the bullying little gang of classmates. Was it too neat? Too black and white? My impression is that it was missing someone. Colby is a total jerk; maybe he needed a smidgen of likability, or at least an inkling that he was nicer when he was younger.

I have a fondness for butches, so it’s great to see proud baby butch representation. My impression is that butch dykes are underrepresented in YA fiction, but I could be incorrect. As a side note, it seems that there are scads more books about trans girls, than there are about trans boys in early readers and maybe YA too. I’d love to see more early reader and YA books about butches, trans boys, and masculine-of-center dykes. If I’m wrong, then give me recommendations!

I recommend this book for any teen over 12/13 years old or so, but especially children that may be bisexual, gay, transgender, genderqueer, or lesbians. I do think that straight kids and adults would enjoy and certainly benefit from reading Girls Mans Up. It’s themes are inclusive of all genders and identities. Unfortunately, Girl Mans Up is a tad too old for my trans Pokémon card collecting, bow tie wearing 10-year-old grandson, but I think he’ll like it in a couple of years. I’m saving the book to give to him in 2019.

Gender identity addendum: I read other folk’s reviews on Amazon prior to posting this review there. Aside from one woman who pointedly wrote, “This is not a transition story; it’s about embracing female masculinity”, the consensus seemed to be that Pen was transgender. That was not my take at all. My personal experience is that identity is fluid; it is not uncommon for a person to change from femme to butch, or femme to transgender, or butch to femme etc. There is a galaxy of possibilities related to gender and identity. Pen may change her identity in a year, five years, ten years…or she may never. I saw this much more as a butch dyke coming out narrative, than a transgender coming out narrative. I’m curious about what M-E Girard has to say!

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About Avery Cassell

Avery Cassell is a genderqueer San Francisco writer, poet, cartoonist, and artist who grew up in Iran. They live with their Maine Coon cat, Lulu, and bake yeasted waffles every Sunday morning. Behrouz Gets Lucky is their first novel. You can find their erotic short stories sprinkled in various anthologies, including Best Lesbian Erotica 2015 and Sex Still Spoken Here. Avery is currently working on a book of more of Behrouz and Lucky's shenanigans, a memoir, and an illustrated early reader children's book about a eight year old transgender boy and his family.
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