Narrator: Emma Galvin
Pub. Date: 2016
Genres: Contemporary YA
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Several months ago I was looking for an audiobook, and OverDrive suggested M-E Girard’s Girl Mans Up. After listening to the sample, I gave it a shot and loved it.
Girl Mans Up is about a high school girl trying to be who she is. Pen plays video games, supports her friends, wears her brother’s shirts, and wants to be one of the guys. Her Portuguese parents want her to dress like a “girl” and do all of the traditional roles of girls. That will show respect. Her friend, Colby, wants her to follow his orders and do what he wants, and that will show loyalty. Her shifting relationships with her family and friends and her feelings for other girls will lead her to finding out how to be who she wants to be.
This book covers some tough topics. It doesn’t badger you with anything, but be aware that there are teenagers smoking pot, drinking, sexually harassing others and getting violent. An event happens that is very politically controversial where it concerns women’s bodies. If you don’t want to read about these things, this is not a book for you.
Pen is trying to work out her own identity. She already knows that she’s lesbian, but she is still negotiating with herself about her gender identity. Others in the community often make snide remarks about her looking like a guy. This inner struggle isn’t helped by Colby and his fellow jerkwads’ comments about her appearance and sexuality. They were mostly her friends until one girl upset Colby. This makes their nasty and bigoted comments worse, and their “loyalty” for Colby reaches new heights. It forces Pen to think more about loyalty and manning up.
The kinder and more accepting people in Pen’s life are Olivia, Blake, and her brother. Olivia has been a victim of Colby’s playing with teen girls’ hearts. Pen normally accepts that girls like Olivia fell for his tricks, but after seeing her crying and puking, she starts thinking about what Colby is about. Blake is an awesome romantic element for Pen in this book, and their relationship is sweet. Blake brings out a nicer side to Pen. Her acceptance of Pen and protection of Olivia makes a powerful friend group to me.
Pen’s brother, Johnny (I assume that’s the spelling), is a good friend, protector and mediator for her. He’s older and should have officially moved out years ago, but he was clearly there to try to get their parents to let Pen be herself.
Their parents and family are another problem. They are very traditional Portuguese immigrants who want their children to conform to their values. The parents are critical of their children and refuse to adapt to Canadian society and to accept their children’s individuality. I hated them, but I loved Johnny’s efforts to make Pen’s life easier with them. I also liked the resolution of this problem.
Since I read an audiobook, I need to talk about the format. Emma Galvin is a marvelous narrator. Even after I bought the print book while I was halfway through, I didn’t want to stop hearing her voice read it. Each character had a unique voice. I don’t know how great her Portuguese accent and pronunciation are, but I loved how she performed each Portuguese-speaking character’s voice. This counts as one of my better experiences with audiobooks.
Girl Mans Up is a good addition to Contemporary YA literature, featuring diverse characters. If you want to read more books with LGBTQ characters or that deal with grittier issues in life, try this novel. This is a heavy story that is worth reading.