Sunday, November 20, 2016

Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard

Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard. September 6, 2016. Harper-Collins. 384 pages. Teen & up.

Sixteen-year old Pen (short for Penelope) has always been different from other girls. She prefers to wear her brother's clothes, cuts her hair short, and is just one of the guys with her friends Colby and Tristan. But though she may prefer to look more like a boy, and is attracted to other girls, she doesn't want to be a boy. She knows who she is and how she wants to be, and doesn't think of herself as "lesbian" or "queer" and definitely not "transgender". She doesn't really understand why other people feel the need to question her about her sexuality or gender and try to label it.

Unfortunately for Pen, her parents are very "Old World" Portuguese, all about outward appearances, traditional gender roles, and showing respect for ones elders by always doing what you're told. They are embarrassed by Pen's appearance and behavior, and try to force her to bend to their will and become a princesa, a girly-girl who is obedient to her parents and will grow up to be a wife and have babies like she is "supposed" to. At the same time things are coming to a head with her parents, Pen's relationship with her friend Colby begins to disintegrate, as he also becomes more and more controlling, pushing the bonds of friendship and loyalty to the breaking point.

Pen's older brother Johnny is a constant source of support, and she begins to develop two new relationships that finally help her realize that to be the kind of person she wants to be, she is going to have to "man up" and push back against those who want to control her.

My Thoughts 
At first I wasn't really quite sure what this book was about, but from reading the jacket summary, Pen sounded like a badass, and that combined with the conflict with old world Portuguese values intrigued me. This is not a "coming out" story or a LGBTQ romance (thought there is an element of romance in it), but really about the conflict between what one person wants for herself verses what everyone else expects, or rather demands, of her. It's also about friendships, loyalty, and recognizing when relationships have become toxic and realizing it's time to distance yourself. I think many people could relate to these themes, regardless of sexuality or gender.

I thought this story was very well-written and relatively fast paced, with characters that are well-developed and believable. Pen is tough and gritty and flawed, but also cares about other people, and has her friends' backs. I loved the relationship between Pen and her brother Johnny; without his love, acceptance, support, and running interference with their parents, Pen probably would have had a much harder time accepting herself and being comfortable in her own skin, and the story might have ended very differently.

I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to anyone looking for good books with LGBTQ characters, those who like characters that are somewhat tough and gritty, yet sympathetic, and anyone who can relate to having to deal with reconciling the expectations others have for them and what they want for themselves. 

About The Author
This is M-E Girard's debut novel, though she has written a couple of short stories that have been published in magazines or included in anthologies. Ironically, in addition to writing, she works as a nurse, which is what Pen's mother kept pushing her to do.