I got this as a review copy from Edelweiss, and reviewed it first on Goodreads before copying that review across to here. I’ve been making a conscious effort to write full reviews there as well as blogging, because I know I have a tendency to disappear from here when formatting and so on just seems too overwhelming, but at least that way you get my immediate thoughts on a book.
Girl Mans Up appealed to me partly because it was an LGBTQ story, and I like to try and read as much queer fiction as possible, and partly because it focused on a butch female protagonist, which is quite rare outside of the “not like other girls because I use a sword” trope so often misused in fantasy.
I liked the message of this book, the underlying story: I liked seeing a butch girl grow in confidence and get to live her own life, and I liked the sibling relationship she has with her brother, and I liked the portrayal of female friendship even when one of the girls involved is pretty unconventional to the point where many people think she’s trying to be a guy.
However, there was also a fair amount that bothered me about the book. Pen’s friends at the start of the book were complete jerks. As the story proceeds, she comes to realise that, but frankly I couldn’t tell why she was hanging out with Colby in the first place, let alone helping him hook up with girls. I hated him, and his friends too. They were terrible, misogynistic, homophobic arseholes, and Pen just didn’t seem to realise it for the longest time. It made it pretty hard to read, frankly.
The story focuses a lot on gaming, and I liked that Pen had an interest that was such a large part of who she was, because it gave her more depth. However, I know nothing whatsoever about gaming — the only console we ever had in my house was a Sega Megadrive. (You’d never know I was born in ’96.) So a lot of the more in-depth discussions went totally over my head and I was skimming them. For a reader who likes gaming, they’d probably have been part of the appeal, but it made it a bit harder for me to relate.
Pen’s family is Portuguese, which made for some interesting diversity and a few brief explorations of different styles of parenting and different family values. However, this too was an aspect where I struggled to follow it — there are some Portuguese words scattered around, and while you don’t need to speak the language to follow the story, my absolute lack of understanding there (I don’t even speak Spanish, which might have been a slight help) occasionally inhibited my ability to get invested in dialogue or scenes.
The writing is decent, although it didn’t stand out to me. I found the use of the word “righteous” to mean something akin to “awesome” a bit weird, and I wasn’t sure if it was an esoteric phrase for the characters or if it’s actually a slang word used in Canada. Which is where the book is set, although it’s not all that significant except in terms of language. Pen also uses a LOT of gendered insults, mainly “pussy”, and constantly refers to needing to have “balls” to be able to do something.
I think this was trying to make a point about her feelings towards gender as well as societal biases and so on, but it made me pretty uncomfortable, and I would have been happier if she’d at least changed that as she becomes more comfortable in her identity, perhaps consciously realising she’s undermining herself all the time. I don’t know, it felt like an aspect of her behaviour where she could have experienced some growth. She used the phrases quite a lot too, which is why I think it was intended to make a point — if it wasn’t, it was a bit repetitive.
All in all, I had quite mixed feelings, and while I enjoyed the underlying storyline and I think contemporaries about butch girls are far too rare, the actual book itself didn’t sit brilliantly with me. So I’d probably rate it 2.5 stars.