Rules for Being a Girl

HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Apr. 2020. 304p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780062803375.
Gr 9 Up–Overachieving, Ivy League–bound Marin grudgingly accepts the sexism around her, from an English curriculum dominated by male writers to a principal who publicly humiliates female students for dress code violations. Then her teacher Mr. Beckett tries to kiss her. Shaken and ashamed, she worries that she unwittingly sent him romantic signals. But soon she gets enraged at the idea that women are supposed to behave according to some unspoken code of conduct. In an incendiary editorial (“The Rules for Being a Girl”) for the school paper, she censures the traditional rules and excuses: “Don’t let things go too far. Don’t give him the wrong idea. Don’t blame him for trying.” The response is disappointing; her best friend Chloe finds the piece shrill, and her boyfriend Jacob dubs Marin a “crazy feminist.” But Marin comes to embrace that label, starting a feminist book club and finding the strength to speak out against Mr. Beckett. While the characters are thinly developed stock types and the ending wraps up too neatly, Marin’s transformation into a clear-eyed young activist will inspire teens. Rife with references to pop culture, this fast-paced narrative introduces the complexities of intersectionality, identifies the insidious impact of rape culture, and encourages readers to take a stand against everyday injustices.
VERDICT Young people starting to explore social justice will find this engaging work a stepping stone on the way to heavier fare such as Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

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