Author: M-E Girard
Pages: 373 (Hardcover)
Release Date: September 6, 2016
Purchase: Amazon•TBD (affiliate link)
All Pen Oliveira 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.
Pen makes tough choices, has her friends’s backs, and is done feeling bad about who she is. 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.
Girl Mans Up was super good! It’s all about Pen, her identity, her relationships, and what loyalty and respect actually mean. Pen has a very open and honest narrative. She tells us exactly who she is, who she isn’t, and how that makes her feel. At first she comes across as a tomboy, since she hangs out with all boys, wears baggy clothes, and eventually cuts her hair short. However, it’s more than that. She knows that she’s not transgender, but she also doesn’t feel comfortable being put firmly into the girl box. Pen just wants to be Pen, but everyone else seems to think she’s too much of one thing, or not enough of something else.
What I loved best about Girl Mans Up was all of Pen’s different relationships, the good ones and the bad ones. I’ll start with the latter. Her friend Colby is a jerk. He talks about loyalty all the time, but he just uses Pen and the other boys in their friend group. Pen realizes this eventually, even if it takes several people telling her that he’s a jerk while she defends him. That is a toxic relationship! I couldn’t believe some of the stuff he pulls with her and how he twists her gender identity to suit his purposes. Pen also has issues with her parents. They’re very traditional and cannot understand why she dresses the way she does. All her mom wants her to do is be a lady, and all her father wants is respect. However, it’s impossible to respect people who don’t respect you. I was quite shocked how things turned out with Pen’s parents, but it was believable. And I was proud of her for staying true to who she is and what she needs.
As for the good relationships, Girl Mans Up has one of the best sibling relationships I’ve ever read. Pen’s older brother Johnny is there for her 100%. He supports her and accepts her just how she is. He offers her advice, helps with her disastrous hair cut, drives her around, and is just generally there for her when she needs him. Not that he’s perfect. He screws up sometimes, but he always owns up to it and makes things right. Pen also gets a girlfriend over the course of the novel and I absolutely loved her! Blake is hot, feisty, and has watermelon sized balls! And she’s bisexual, or at least not straight. She speaks her mind and isn’t afraid to tell it like it is! Additionally, there’s Olivia, who is Colby’s ex and initially someone that Pen wants nothing to do with. They come to be great friends though as Pen stumbles upon a secret and helps Olivia work through it. I don’t want to spoil anything on that front, but just know that Olivia’s story is an important one that definitely needed to be told.
There were only a couple of things that rubbed me the wrong way about Girl Mans Up. The first was Pen randomly throwing around the word “homo.” When she kisses a boy, she feels like a homo. When she puts on a skirt and heels, she feels like a homo. I’m not really sure what that’s suppose to mean, but it’s obviously not a good thing. The other thing was that Pen got awfully close to falling into the “I’m not like other girls, and girly things are stupid” trap. She’s not girly, and that’s perfectly fine. But there’s a scene where she condemns girl talk for no real reason, other than it’s girl talk and she doesn’t want to be that girl. Whatever.
Other than that one thing, I loved Girl Mans Up. It’s an interesting exploration of gender and how society judges people based on their appearance. It also takes an amazing look at friendships and how they change over time as we learn more about ourselves. It just gives a lot for us to think about without being too heavy. There’s plenty of funny scenes mixed in with the serious.