Sixteen-year-old Penelope, known as Pen, is a Portuguese girl who wears black, talks tough and struggles with who she is. She knows she’s a girl, but even though she doesn’t want to be girly, she doesn’t want to be a boy either. Pen’s identity crisis is one of the central issues of Girl Mans Up, but debut author M-E Girard takes the tale well beyond the stereotypical comments from Pen’s peers.
Pen not only learns to survive typical teenage problems, such as volatile, fickle friendships and old-school parents who try to turn her into someone she’s not, but also navigates the questions and expectations of her own sexuality and gender fluidity.
With raw, honest dialogue and vivid characterizations, Girl Mans Up will resonate beyond its intended audience. Many readers will identify with Pen, who wants more than anything to be allowed to be herself. Fortunately, the beautiful girl of Pen’s dreams sees beyond stereotypes to forge a true romantic relationship.
The truths that teens hold in their hearts—and the ones they sometimes show to the world—can be scary. “People should just be allowed to look in the mirror and see all kinds of possibilities,” Girard writes. “They should at least be able to see themselves reflected in there, even if they look all weird.”
Thanks to Girard, hopefully more students will be able to look inward and show respect outward as they embrace all differences.