Laura Hankin’s A Special Place for Women has a ripped-from-the-headlines hook: It’s heavily based on the controversial, real-life, women-only coworking space the Wing and related critiques of “girl boss” feminism, a phrase that diminishes women’s authority while masquerading as empowerment.
Narrator Jillian Beckley is an unemployed journalist from an unsexy part of Brooklyn who recently lost her mom. Jillian doesn’t have any female friends to speak of, but there are two men in her life: her childhood neighbor, who is New York’s hottest new chef, and a magazine editor on whom she has a crush. In a convoluted plan to impress the editor, Jillian pretends she is dating the chef in order to gain access to an elite club of powerful women called Nevertheless.
This part of the story is similar to the movie Mean Girls, as Jillian initially mocks these out-of-touch women but quickly finds herself under their spell. Much of the novel alludes to possibly sinister goings-on at Nevertheless; Jillian worries that the organization is a shadowy cabal that ruins its enemies. At this, the reader may wonder if the novel is an overwrought sendup of the #girlboss culture that lauds female billionaires. After all, is there anything original left to say about wealthy, status-seeking women and the corrupting influence of power?
But then, halfway through A Special Place for Women, a creative twist makes these events delightfully complex. This is where Hankin shows her range as a writer: The book you think you’re reading turns into something else entirely.
Admirably, the class analysis in A Special Place for Women is more finely tuned than most novels with an outsider-masquerading-as-an-insider storyline. That’s largely due to Jillian’s rock-solid millennial Everywoman voice, which allows her to stay relatable amid escalating bizarre circumstances.
A Special Place for Women is a slow burn that’s ultimately fun, fresh and entirely worthwhile.