Hello! Last week we had our first Book Club meet up of the year and it was our biggest yet which is so amazing! It was lovely to see faces old and new joining us to chat all things queer, specifically Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard. It’s a contemporary YA book that follows Pen, a queer protagonist who is struggling mainly with how others see her. She describes herself as ‘queer’ and a quote on the back of the book describes her as a genderqueer character but I’m hesitant to label specifically as Pen never labels herself. Read on for some opinions on this month’s book and to find out our February read.
Girl Mans Up focuses on Pen’s relationships with her family and friends, following her through a difficult stage in her life. Her current friends aren’t exactly great (putting it mildly), her parents don’t accept her and she’s figuring out how she feels about her sexuality and gender identity as well as how others judge her for it. It’s a really different look at gender to anything I’ve read in YA before. Trigger warning for anyone wanting to read the book – there is a lot of emotional manipulation and a couple of sexual assault scenes that we were unaware of going into it.
Most of the group agreed that we enjoyed Pen as a character and the representation was fantastic. The way she battled her own thoughts about herself with the ways other people perceived her was really great to read, though difficult at times because of how people reacted. We felt the frustration with her when others assumed her gender and how she should act because of this. At times, she would be really sure of herself but others would try to bring her down. We all loved the friendship she had with Olivia, a really tender relationship which reflected the differences between Pen’s old friends and her new ones. Her romantic relationship with Blake was less well received by the group. It didn’t feel as ‘real’, coming across as a little one dimensional, particularly because of Blake’s character. She was in many ways too perfect – this may be because Pen puts her on a pedestal but she didn’t feel as fleshed out as characters like Pen, Colby and Olivia.
The majority of ratings for this book were 2.5/3 stars with a couple of 3.5 and 4 stars. We had a really interesting discussion about our reasons for this. Some of us felt the writing was repetitive and that some of the storylines and characters felt a little one dimensional. The positives were definitely the queer representation, Pen herself and the friendship between her and Olivia.
LGBTQ+/Queer themes and representation in Girl Mans Up
We had a good discussion about how Pen’s thoughts on her own gender identity were written in this book. It was brilliantly depicted and the way she questioned things was really interesting, particularly in relation to not having many queer friends or spaces around her. Also, we realised that for many of us this is the first portrayal we have read of a butch lesbian – so often this is ignored and it was brilliant for this specifically to be written about. We all agreed it’s pretty different to anything we have read but it may not be something we recommend first. Enough of me! Hear from some people who attended January’s Book Club!
“The book was rare in its representation of a character like Pen. Ambiguous in her gender identity, the reader is left to conclude whether she is genderqueer, cis-female, trans, or a conflation of the three. However, she is nuanced in her characterisation. She feels her gender confusion does not come a gender-dysphoria per se, but from an internalisation of the shame that other people put on her. I enjoyed the way the novel courted gender performance; it examined how masculinity can be toxic when performed in a normative sense, yet emboldening when performed in a queer manner by a queer female. I enjoyed the loaded idea that Pen was a girl who wanted to be someone’s boyfriend, that’s happens to be a girl. I do think that some of the queer characters (such as Blake) were put on a pedestal and were unrealistically painted without flaws.” – Giorgio – Instagram
“I think it is a good representation of a character (Pen) who is genderqueer. It was good to be inside Pen’s mind as she works out who she is within her own body. There’s also pretty straightforward bisexual/lesbian representation in the form of Blake and Pen’s relationship, and maybe the mention of a lesbian cousin or something? I’m all for representation but if there had been any others it feels like the author would have just been running down a checklist or trying to hit a quota. I would feel confident recommending this novel to someone of the same age as Pen. ” – Andrew – Twitter | Instagram
“I thought the book was good in terms of the rep shown, with Pen being a genderqueer teenager, as well as a lesbian. I feel like her interactions with the characters based on who Pen is, and how she is seen, was definitely realistic when the book was set 10 years ago. ” – Beth – Twitter | Instagram
“It was really excellent. I have never read a book with a young protagonist, who could be described as genderqueer/butch lesbian – but yet who is at ease with herself and refuses labels.” – Liam – Twitter
“How it was represented is one of the highlights of the book.” – Gemma – Twitter
We also ask for any other general opinions on the book, reasons for the star rating, etc. and this is something we always chat about at Book Club with everyone too. It’s always great for us to see what people generally think of the books each month.
“The book, although one I would recommend, would not be one I recommend first. The novel suffers from a lack of development in key characters, a rushed ending, and an unfocused plot. However, the celebration of a character like Pen is rare and was well-done.” – Giorgio – Instagram
“I really enjoyed the prose, it was simple easy reading, good for picking up and putting back down again. Some things felt a bit…idk, not fully formed, like the relationship between Pen and Blake. It had the feel of a FanFiction relationship (ie they’ve been dating 2 weeks and are already calling each other “love” etc. not that that happens between Pen and Blake, but it felt very rushed). The ending was also very sudden, like the author couldn’t think of a better way of ending without rambling on for another 200 pages.” – Andrew – Twitter | Instagram
“The representation was great, but the writing, plot and character development left a lot to be desired.” – Liam – Twitter
“The depictions of healthy and unhealthy relationships is also a highlight of the book; it may not be perfect and did feel repetitive at some points, but it kept me reading and interested.” – Gemma – Twitter
Our next book club date is Thursday 27 February at 7pm, Chapter One Books in Manchester! Our next book is The Color Purple by Alice Walker. A huge thank you to everyone who supports the book club both in person and online and we hope you can join us next month!