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Girl Mans Up

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All Pen wants is to be the kind of girl she’s always been. So why does everyone have a problem with it? They think the way she looks and acts means she’s trying to be a boy—that she should quit trying to be something she’s not. If she dresses like a girl, and does what her folks want, it will show respect. If she takes orders and does what her friend Colby wants, it will show her loyalty. But respect and loyalty, Pen discovers, are empty words. Old-world parents, disintegrating friendships, and strong feelings for other girls drive Pen to see the truth—that in order to be who she truly wants to be, she’ll have to man up.

400 pages, ebook

First published September 6, 2016

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About the author

M.E. Girard

3 books234 followers
M-E GIRARD is a Canadian writer of contemporary fiction---mostly young adult fiction, sometimes new adult fiction, usually queer fiction, and always about girls. Her debut novel GIRL MANS UP will be published in September 2016 by HarperTeen/HarperCollins and HarperCollins Canada. M-E was a fellow of the 2013 and 2015 Lambda Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices. Her writing has appeared in Plenitude Magazine. M-E is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and the Writers' Community of Durham Region.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 928 reviews
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 508 books403k followers
January 31, 2019
Girl Mans Up
M-E Girard

YA contemporary fiction, own voices queer rep.

Pen (don’t call her Penelope) Oliveira lives in a small Ontario town with her Old-World Portuguese parents and her big brother Johnny. As she heads into her junior year at St. Peter’s Catholic School, she’s got a lot more on her mind than just grades.

Pen has always just wanted to be the kind of girl that she is – not a girly girl, not a guy, but a girl who likes girls, and who presents as what is sometimes called ‘butch,’ though this isn’t a term Pen herself uses. She prefers her hair short. She likes to wear her brother’s old clothes. She’s used to being mistaken for a boy and has learned to put up with crap from her less understanding peers (read: most of them).

She hangs out with Colby, who has never made a big deal out of her sexuality and treats her with a measure of acceptance, but their relationship begins to fray as Colby continues to use Pen as his ‘scout’ for girls that he likes – making Pen vouch for him and lead those girls to Colby so he can use them and discard them. When Pen gets to know Olivia, one of Colby’s exes, and finds out just how badly Colby messed her up, Pen starts to question her loyalty to her old friend, no matter how much they like hanging out and playing video games together.

Also complicating things: Pen’s crush on her super-hot classmate Blake, who is just coming out of a relationship with a guy in her rock band, but who seems to be into the idea of dating Pen. This could be Pen’s first real romance, but can she figured out how to make it work? Her parents don’t understand her. They want her to be a ‘nice girl’ who wears dresses and finds a good husband. Big brother Johnny is Pen’s constant defender and supporter, but he’s just gotten into a fight with Mom and Dad and gotten kicked out of the house, leaving Pen alone. Colby is getting more and more demanding about Pen’s loyalty, warning her not to get too involved with Blake, and definitely not to listen to Olivia telling stories about him.

Girl Mans Up follows Pen through her junior year as she struggles to figure out how she can be who she wants to be, date who she wants to date, and be her own best advocate with her friends and family. This ‘slice of life’ novel is one of the most honest and open stories I’ve ever read. Pen pulls no punches (literally or figuratively) as she tries to navigate her life. She is upfront with herself and with the readers about how she feels and about not having all the answers. It’s impossible not to like her. She is both tough and tender, uncertain and self-aware. A lot of young readers will relate to her struggles.

Some of my favorite quotes, to give you a sample of her voice:

Thinking about her choices, and her friend Olivia’s:

“It's okay to feel bad about how things went down, but it's not okay to drown in guilt and regret every day for having made decisions other people don't agree with. At some point, we all have to man up and decide to do what we have to do, despite the people around us who try to get in the way.”

Thinking about how she wants to be with Blake:

“I think maybe she could be my girlfriend. I don't want to be her girlfriend, though. But there's this part of me that totally knows I could be her boyfriend. I don't want her to think of me as a boy, or a boy substitute, though. I want to be a boyfriend who is a girl. I have no idea how to explain that stuff to anyone, let alone a girl I like. I just wish it was already all understood.”

How it feels to be the only queer kid at a party:

“There have to be at least thirty strangers in this house; it would be nice if one
or two of them were queer in some way. I’d take a super-flaming gay dude even. Just
someone else to stand out a little with me. And if there was another queer person
here, then I could kind of assume the rest of these people aren’t jerks. But it’s
just me. It’s always just me.”

Looking at herself in the mirror:

“People should just be allowed to look in the mirror and see all kinds of possibilities.
Everyone should be able to feel nice when they look in the mirror. They should at
least be able to see themselves reflected in there, even if they look all weird.

In the mirror, I see myself standing there and I think I’m all right. I think there’s
no other way I could look, or should look.”

Penelope knows exactly who is she. Her journey of “manning up” is about learning how to be who she is in the world, to choose the right friends who have the right kind of loyalty, to be in love and deal with the flack she will get for it, to stand up to her family firmly and clearly when she needs to.

I felt privileged to share Pen’s journey, and I especially appreciated her revelations about the nature of family. Not all of us get happily-ever-after reconciliations with our parents. Not all families are the ones we’re born into. This is a much-needed addition to YA literature, full of candor and humanity, and will make a lot of readers feel like they are not alone.

I found this book thanks to the website http://queerbooksforteens.com.
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews155k followers
December 10, 2020

Happy Pride Month y'all! Click the link to check out my favorite PRIDE books
The Written Review

Introducing Pen - the antidote to all those cookie-cutter YA heroines

Pen's not a girly-girl, she's not a tomboy, she wants to be one of the guys but she doesn't want to become a guy.

Nobody around her can get that.

Her parents focus only on how she's not a graceful, perfect little girl. Her brother, her best friend and only confidant, is being pushed out of the family for not fitting their parents ideals.

High School Sucks.
Figure 1: Pen - fierce, angry, with a killer haircut.

Pen is wonderfully flawed character. She's a bit of a wimp when it comes to her friends but is all heart when it comes to her girlfriend (Blake).
Figure 2: Blake - bold, blonde and flawless.
The only thing I didn't quite like was that Blake was quintessentially perfect. I don't mind the pairing, only the perfection of it.

I'm genuinely happy that Pen's life is at least going good in the love side of things...it just seems a little too ...perfect... What are the odds that the one girl that Pen has a crush on (only from a distance) secretly loves all the right things (videogames, playing in a band, etc) that makes her incredibly endearing and absolutely perfect for Pen?

I know, I know but I like a little struggle in the relationship. A little give and a little take.

The other issue I had was other than Pen, her brother and Blake, most of the other characters felt flat. For example, her parents repeated (literally) the same arguments from start to finish. They were frustrating to listen to and I could hardly stand them as soon as they came into a scene.

Despite that, Pen was such a vibrant character that she outshone the problems and made this story one that I will truly treasure. I am so happy that I picked this one up!

Audiobook Comments
--Extremely well-read. A pleasure to listen to.

YouTube | Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Snapchat @miranda_reads
Profile Image for Dahlia.
Author 18 books2,405 followers
May 3, 2017
I have to admit I really didn't understand how badly YA needed a butch lesbian book until I read this one. There are a lot of nuances to gender identity I really didn't get until I read this, and for that I like it a lot. I also love that this might be the only f/f YA I've read where the two girls meet and stay together in a solid, healthy romantic (and sexual) relationship for the entire book. Plus I don't think I've ever read a character of Portuguese descent before, so that was cool, as is the really sweet sibling relationship. The secondary characters, though, man... other than the girlfriend and brother, I would not like to spend time with them again anytime soon. But yeah, definitely a necessary book in YA, especially because of how strongly it depicts taking power into her own hands - progress in Pen's life happens because of decisions she makes, things she does, stuff she does, relationships she forges, works on, and cuts. I am so here for YA that shows that rather than relying on some passive tragic inciting incident that suddenly fills everyone with understanding.
Profile Image for Eloise.
595 reviews238 followers
January 11, 2018
2.5 Too many things were not okay for me in this book, iIt was really difficult to get through.

Not only are her so called "friends" awful, but her parents are even worse. Sooo negative, by the end I skipped the very many conversations with her parents. And I get that some people are sadly like that but it didn't feel like much was being done about it for most of the book.

What hurt me the most though was Pen herself and how she talked about women.
She doesn't want to be a girl because to her, they are too fragile, dumb, can't do anything etc. Not only her friends but she as well were regularly using terms such as "man up", "grow some balls", "don't be such a pussy" and things like that. NOT OKAY. I continued reading hoping those words would be criticized but nope. Never are they even questioned.
What I understood from her explanation of why she liked Blake was because Blake was "not like other girls", not the stereotypically girly-girl.
Yes, there is character development in Pen in how she views herself and other people, great, but she still continues to think and use term which, in my opinion, disrespect women, so not great at all.

The positives of this book: Great brother, diverse book, great f/f relationship AND a great friendship between the girls by the end.
It just wasn't enough for me to forget how I did NOT enjoy the reading experience.
Profile Image for Sarah Elizabeth.
4,729 reviews1,281 followers
September 3, 2016
(Source: I received a digital copy of this book for free on a read-to-review basis. Thanks to HarperCollins and Edelweiss.)

“The thing is, I’m not a boy, but I don’t want to be that girl either. I just want everyone to screw off and let me do my own thing for once.”

This was a YA contemporary story, about a girl who had issues with her gender and identity.

Pen was an interesting character, and her issues with her identity were quite confusing for both me and her. She knew she was a girl, and she told people she was a girl, but at the same time she acted quite masculine, and didn’t want to be treated like a girl, much to other people’s disgust.

The storyline in this was generally about Pen’s life and her issues with people expecting things of her, with most of the pressure coming from her parents and her best friend Colby (who was a dirt bag). We also got a bit of a romance between Pen and another girl, and a storyline about a teenage pregnancy. That being said though, it felt like not a lot really happened in the story, and it felt like it was more a general look at Pen’s life rather than a proper story with a beginning, middle and end.

The ending to this was okay, but I didn’t really feel like Pen was in that much of a different place than where she started the book.

6 out of 10
Profile Image for Maja (The Nocturnal Library).
1,013 reviews1,889 followers
September 4, 2016
4.5 stars

Girl Mans Up, M-E Girard’s astonishingly honest book, might just be one of the best things that happened to YA fiction in a very, very long time. There have been books about gay, lesbian and trans teens, but I don’t think there are many, and certainly not this good, about genderqueer characters. Written with a light hand and breathtaking emotion, Girl Mans Up shows us how damaging traditional gender roles can be.

Pen doesn’t quite meet the expectations of her traditional family or the teachers of her catholic school. She is a girl, but she is only comfortable with her hair short, her clothes loose and doing things that are traditionally viewed as “men’s work”. She doesn���t feel like a boy in girl’s skin, she is quite comfortable with who she is, but the people around her, her parents included, are making her life a lot harder than it needs to be.

Then I realized I don’t have to be trans to still confuse people with the way I look. I had my hair then. Now, there’s nothing left that makes me a girl, except for the fact that I am one.

The best thing about Pen is that she is quite comfortable in her own skin. She has no doubts about her identity, gender or otherwise. Her problems come from the discrepancy between who she is and how the society sees her. She doesn’t fit into any of the expected roles, therefore she needs to be cast out, changed or made to fit some stereotype, at least.

During the course of this book, Pen deals with everything from whispers and gossip to outright bullying. She finds very little true acceptance for who she is, but she does find it in her brother Johnny, her girlfriend Blake and several new friends. Pen’s relationship with her older brother Johnny is a true thing of beauty. At one point, she calls him her friend, her brother, her parent, and he really is all those things. He is pure acceptance, the epitome of unconditional love with plenty of patience and a few flaws that merely make him more real.

There is also a very healthy relationship between two girls that has a supporting role and changes things for Pen. Blake’s only dated boys before falling for Pen, but she is attracted to Pen exactly for who she is. Several friendships are born in this book and several others die in flames. All of them, as well as Pen’s thoughts om them, come across as genuine, realistic slices of teenage existence.

I don’t want to be her girlfriend, though. But there’s this part of me that totally knows I could be her boyfriend. I don’t want her to think of me as a boy, or a boy substitute, though. I want to be a boyfriend who is a girl. I have no idea how to explain that stuff to anyone, let alone a girl I like. I just wish it was already understood.

This book should be required reading in every high school, not only because of Pen’s gender identity and the society’s acceptance, but also because of the healthy lesbian relationship, wonderful friendships, and the example of a non-traditional, supportive family.
Profile Image for maria.
564 reviews354 followers
November 10, 2016

"People should just be allowed to look in the mirror and see all kinds of possibilities. Everyone should be able to feel nice when they look in the mirror. They should at least be able to see themselves reflected in there, even if they look all weird."


What I Liked

Pen. I absolutely loved Pen. I thought she was a well-written ad well-developed character. I loved her relationship with her friends and especially her relationship with her brother. She was an extremely relatable character for me and I’ll be expanding on that in the next paragraph.

How relatable Pen was. I was able to relate to Pen quite a lot. I’m not Portuguese, and my parents were born here in Canada, but I do come from an Italian family. My grandparents immigrated to Canada from Italy. My grandparents would take care of my sister and I after school so we grew up in a pretty traditional European setting. Our family is pretty much just as large as Pen’s and although I’m 24 years old, I still get seated at the kids table during holiday get-togethers. No, I don’t wear men’s clothing all the time, but I would much rather wear a formal outfit that consists of pants rather than a skirt or dress. I’m definitely not on the same level as Pen, but I’ve never really felt comfortable as a stereotypical girly-girl type either. I’ve always enjoyed things that are darker in nature or maybe things that aren’t the “norm”. I grew up collecting Hot Wheels, watching Hockey and falling in love with the Fast & The Furious movies. Pen really spoke to me as a character and I was able to understand where she was coming from and the way that she was feeling.

The writing style. Although I’m no longer in high school, and I haven’t been for about 7 years now, the writing style is perfect for that demographic. It was very casual and I can definitely see my teenage self speaking in the same way that Pen and her friends talk to one another. I think that M-E Girard perfectly captured the voice of the teenage demographic.

What I Didn’t Like

The repetitive-ness. There were a few moments that felt a little repetitive. The multiple arguments between Pen and her parents felt a little too similar and there wasn’t really any benefit to them. The first one or two were okay because they set the tone in the relationship between Pen and her parents, but after a while it started to feel a little repetitive for me.

Colby. He was just vile. He pissed me off so many times and I just could not stand him.

Overall, I really enjoyed Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard. As you may have noticed, it was extremely relatable. I loved Pen and I loved her character development. I thought the writing style was fantastic. Girl Mans Up is a wonderful debut novel by M-E Girard and I’m super excited to see what she’ll be coming out with next!


Initial Post Reading Thoughts:

A great coming of age story! I felt like I could relate with Pen on many levels while reading this novel. I love that it featured a young girl. I loved that it took place in Canada. There were just a lot of things that I loved and that I could relate to.
Profile Image for shady boots.
500 reviews2,037 followers
May 16, 2018
--2.5 stars--

I don't know, I just didn't like this book as much as I wanted to.

I related to Pen, despite us technically being opposite sides of the spectrum with her being a butch lesbian and me being a fem gay, but I totally got her struggles with regards to her gender expression and her disapproving family. That and we're both pretty nerdy gamers. I couldn't relate to her naivete or docility though, and I know it was intentional for her character arc, but I just found it really frustrating whenever she would let Colby walk all over her, and how she would just nod along to whatever disgusting shit he spewed.

Not much else to say. The romance was cute enough. I liked her brother Johnny. But overall I just wasn't feeling this book much. Maybe my expectations were too high.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,401 reviews11.7k followers
December 30, 2016
I am happy to see that a YA book like this exists and is getting considerable attention. It shows yet another facet of human sexuality and gender identity that I had though I had an understanding of, but clearly I didn't, until M-E Girard explained some things to me.

Even though I wasn't truly enchanted by the novel's pretty stock plot (bullying and difficulties of coming out to obtuse parents) and characters (they didn't have that X factor), I am glad I read it.
Profile Image for Journey.
301 reviews54 followers
September 17, 2016
man, i was so looking forward to this, and then it was just okay. as a whole, i actually didn't like it that much, but there are some redeeming factors--the way Pen talks to Olivia about regretting things and feeling bad about things, for example. but sorry, i just don't like Pen as a character!!! i'm ascribing motivation that probably doesn't exist, but it FEELS like she was written to make a point about ~masc privilege and toxic masculinity~ in queer communities but then never even delivers on it. is this just how the author sees all butch women? Pen is perfectly okay helping her douchebag guy friend "score" girls, considers herself "one of the guys," drops "pussy" as an insult like it's going out of style, and whooo boy let's talk about how she makes comments about feeling like a "homo" and a "fag" if she does certain things.

and you know, these could be explained as internalized misogyny/homophobia, except there is no critical thought or growth there! the only change is that by the end she's no longer friends with Colby, and that's because of her behavior towards her*, not the "other girls" who were his conquests.

(*which btw, he sexually assaults her, though it's never called that, so he TOTALLY deserves what comes to him, not sayin he doesn't!)

i absolutely want stories about butch girls in ya. but this isn't it for me.
Profile Image for Eilonwy.
814 reviews205 followers
March 8, 2017
Pen Oliveira is a girl, no question about that. But she's always felt more comfortable hanging with boys, playing video games, wearing her brother's clothes, and dreaming about getting a girlfriend. Her brother and her friend Colby are cool with who she is. But her very traditional Portuguese-immigrant parents, especially her mom? Not so much. As she starts her Year 12 at a Catholic high school outside of Toronto, Pen finds herself facing a series of unexpected challenges ... and she's determined to man up enough to deal with all of them.
Wow, wow, wow! I went into this novel expecting an "issue book" aimed at butch lesbian teens, but instead, I got one of the best contemporary novels I've ever read. I love this book, with all the love I have to give it. And I want to stalk M-E Girard and prostrate myself before her for having written this gem. If I ever get to meet her, it will be embarrassing fangirl city.

I love, love, love that Pen knows exactly who she is through this entire story. She's used to being picked on, she's used to not quite belonging with either boys or girls, she's used to her mom wanting a girly daughter and finding the one she's got completely mystifying. Pen is fine with who she is, and just wants to be allowed to be herself, even though she hasn't quite learned the words to define that self, because she doesn't know anyone else like her. (The one quibble I have with this book is that it appears to be set now, but no one seems to have the internet, so Pen doesn't seem to have ever gone online to look for other girls/women like her.) So this book is remarkably angst-free. Pen is genuinely tough and thick-skinned. Her voice is great -- I strongly recommend looking at my updates below this review for a sample of how she expresses herself. Maybe this book spoke to me so strongly because, while I'm a cis-gendered, straight female, I'm also a jock and a tomboy, and I grew up in a house full of boys, so I felt very comfortable wearing Pen's butch skin while I was reading this. And I've certainly experienced some of the crap people are happy to dish out to non-conforming girls (and boys). But I hope other readers identify with her just as strongly, because she's an awesome character.

Ah-hem. I did warn y'all about the fangirling, right? :-)

The book's strongest aspect for me after Pen herself is its depiction of friendship. Pen finds herself forming a bond with Olivia, a new girl at school who had a brief thing with Colby during the summer. Olivia's got her own issues, which contribute to forcing Pen to look at Colby a little more critically. Pen also meets her own potential first girlfriend, Blake, and has to navigate how to be a boyfriend and a girlfriend at the same time. (And another thing I love about this book is that even though Pen has spent most of her life around boys, using terms like "pussy," "man up," "got balls," "grow a pair," etc., there is no female objectification of Blake. Zero.) All of these characters are really well-drawn. The dialogue feels authentic, never forced. Colby, in particular, practically deserves his own book, because yes, he's a real jerk, but at the same time, his insecurity about masculinity stands as a subtly done but brilliant contrast to Pen's confidence in her female manliness.

The family thread is artful, as well. Pen's mother starts out seeming completely unsympathetic, and completely unwilling to accept the reality of who her daughter is. But by the end of the book, she's given just enough vulnerability to become real, and to let the reader see why she is the way she is. There's no magical transformation into a perfect family, but just a little crack that allows some optimism for Pen and her mother's future relationship. And Pen's brother? We should all be so lucky as to have a brother like him. He's another great character.

All of these threads make a perfectly melded whole in the story. I loved every page of this book, and felt myself living it in my head when I wasn't actually reading. Pen's development through the story is slow and believable. She's a brave kid who won't look away from her own problems, no matter how painful they are, or anyone else's either. She's got her friends backs. She's stronger for it. And I think maybe I'm a little stronger, too, from reading this book and seeing her example.

So, have I convinced you to read this yet? :-)
Profile Image for Louis Muñoz.
144 reviews54 followers
July 21, 2017
"People should just be allowed to look in the mirror and see all kinds of possibilities. Everyone should be able to feel nice when they look in the mirror. They should at least be able to see themselves reflected in there, even if they look all weird." You're absolutely right, Pen; "you win everything," including our hearts.
Profile Image for Paige (Illegal in 3 Countries).
1,226 reviews391 followers
February 11, 2021
See more of my reviews on The YA Kitten! My copy was an ARC I got for review from YA Books Central.
*Pen and her family are Portuguese
*Olivia is half-Asian
*Pen is a lesbian, Blake is bi

Thanks to all sorts of psychological stuff I learned about in high school, bright colors on a book cover make me think a book will be happy and fun and sweet. Something something schemas, our brains are like Google AutoComplete, something something. Girl Mans Up has a bright red cover, but it’s really representative of how you’ll be seeing red while reading. Pen’s story is necessary and beautiful and relatable no matter your gender or sexual identity, but you’re going to be mad at just about everyone in Pen’s life.

It takes serious mental preparation to even read the first chapter as we meet Pen and the abominable creatures she classifies as her friends: Colby the pickup artist, Garrett the outright offensive, and Tristan the actually-okay-but-a-major-pushover. We talk about how women who say things like “I’m not friends with girls, they’re too much drama” reek of internalized misogyny, but Pen’s problem is very different: she has to endure constant casual misogyny from her friends just because she can have friends. Her masculine presentation presumably made forming friendships with girls difficult.

Once Colby forces Pen to be his wingman and Garrett starts calling Pen “Steve” after she cuts her hair, we start to wonder how she can tolerate them. Sadly, the desire to have friends at all can outweigh the desire to have good friends and she’ll excuse longtime toxic friend Colby because he’s “not as bad” as Garrett. It’s not a healthy approach to friendship, but many will recognize the experience if they’ve had toxic friends before.

Girl Mans Up excels because Pen and the rest of the cast never feel like characters in a fictional novel. Every word on the page is a breath from Pen’s mouth and you might forget she’s not a real person. When she starts living her truth and is able to cultivate healthy friendships as well as get into a sweetheart romance with another girl named Blake, your relief will be as powerful as if you knew Pen personally. Hopefully, she’ll make people step up for the butch girls in their community. If I were still in school and knew a girl like her, I’d do my best to be a good friend to her.

Pen’s broken-English-speaking parents will be just as recognizable as Pen herself. It’s understandable they want the best for their two children as Portuguese immigrants to Canada, but the pushy ways implied to be part of their culture and their lack of regard for their children is infuriating. For instance, they’ve already decided Pen will be a nurse no matter what she wants. Parents like these are why QUILTBAG kids might remain closeted to their parents or outright cut them out of their lives once they’re old enough. Thank goodness Pen had her brother Johnny growing up or she’d be in an even worse place.

I also want to say that I appreciate how sensitive and positive Girl Mans Up is in regards to abortion. One character decides to have one and the discussions she and Pen have about it are very healthy. It made me wonder about the differences between getting/having one in Canada versus the United States as well.

I’m still baffled by Canadian architecture, though. An above-ground basement? What?

Most likely, Girl Mans Up will make you a better human being for having read it. I consider myself a good, intersectional feminist, but I had no idea what butch girls like Pen faced before now and I hope to incorporate what I’ve learned from her into my activism. That’s how to keep your feminism relevant and helpful. If there’s any justice in the world, Girl Mans Up will become a YA classic and a major example of great QUILTBAG YA.
Profile Image for Gaby LezReviewBooks.
735 reviews354 followers
November 20, 2019
Penelope ‘Pen’ Olivera is a teenager attending a Catholic high school and not following gender norms. It’s not easy to live in a small community in Ontario, Canada with her Catholic parents, who are first-generation Portuguese immigrants, while navigating rejection, experiencing first love, finding loyal friends and trying to discover her own identity.

This was a fantastic lesbian young adult audiobook, no wonder this novel got so many awards, it’s not only superbly written but it’s also a compelling and engaging story. I wish there were books like this when I was growing up but I’m sure that many teenagers will benefit from this book and feel that they are not alone in not conforming to gender stereotypes or just being different from the majority of people.

Written in first person from the point of view of Pen, the book explores a few months of her life in which she is confronted with either accepting what her parents demand from her or find out who she really wants to be. What impressed me most is that the tone of the novel feels realistic, the characters authentic in their ages and their adolescent personalities, and the dialogues are very natural sounding. It’s funny how teenagers can handle in the same conversation deep meaningful life matters followed by completely trivial issues. The author got this perfectly.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Emma Galvin, my first experience with this narrator. Ms. Galvin has a youthful ideal voice for this YA novel but despite that, she manages to perform the adult characters acceptably. Her interpretation of feelings is excellent considering this is a very demanding novel especially with the overwhelming and fiery emotions typical of teenagers. I loved her performance of Pen’s mother and father with their heavy accents and exaggerated expressions. Coming from a loud Italian family myself, it feels totally authentic. I found that sometimes the girls’ voices were too similar but the result was compensated with a very good interpretation. Ms. Galvin brings this fantastic text to life outstandingly and I cannot recommend it more for those fans of the genre and even for readers/listeners who want to experience a great story. Included in the Scribd subscription, you’ll get 9 hours of enjoyment.

Overall, a fantastic young adult audiobook recommended even for those who aren’t fans of the genre. 5+ stars for the story and 5 stars for the performance. Average, 5 stars.

See all my reviews at www.lezreviewbooks.com
Profile Image for Tasha.
220 reviews567 followers
June 30, 2017
I'm very torn on my rating for this. There are some things that don't sit well with me, that have also been mentioned in other reviews (bad rep of Portuguese family/language; Pen's mentality towards 'girly-girls'; etc.). But I still appreciated reading from a butch lesbian MC and reading about all the gender identity things.

Trigger warning for queerphobia (like a lot).
439 reviews10 followers
February 25, 2022
It may seem lesbo phobic
Am thus deleting my review
Profile Image for Kaje Harper.
Author 75 books2,514 followers
September 20, 2017
This book takes a place among my favorite YA LGBTQ books. There are books with more emotional impact or unique plot, but this one stands out with its realistic and relatable story of a butch lesbian girl figuring out how to live her life.

Pen doesn't fit the expectations of her traditional parents and extended relatives. She likes to wear her brother's clothes, crops her hair short; she hangs out with guys and video gaming is a big part of her spare time. And yet she hates when people ask if she's trying to be a boy or assume she's transgender. She's a girl, who likes to present on the male end of the spectrum, and who wants to date other girls. Pen is like so many other girls out there, who have had a really hard time finding themselves in YA fiction. (I think, so often, YA is trying to show that LGBTQ teens are "just like other kids" that the stories shy away from the femme guy and the butch girl. This is welcome representation.)

There isn't a big overarching plot here, although there are nods to issues of family rejection, sexual assault, teen pregnancy, bullying, etc. The resolutions are more low-key and realistic than dramatic, especially in the outcomes. Pen is cushioned from some of the worst possibilities by the love of her older brother. Johnny is her supporter and champion - the guy who will drive her somewhere important, protect and cover for her. The person to whom she is just "Pen" and perfect exactly the way she is.

In this book, there are entitled teen guys who move through high school cushioned by their white, male superiority. There are the followers who see staying in these boys' orbit as better than going it alone. Friendships grow and split in the sometimes-confusing, tangled way common to high-school.

And there's a tender, developing lesbian love story between a butch girl and a bi girl.

Some people may wonder if Pen is somewhat genderqueer. At times, she seems to place herself not just in a butch space but with "the guys", but she also clearly rejects a male identity so we have to take her at her own word. She gets to define herself. And meeting her is a pleasure. Highly recommended, if you like slice of life and can stand not to see every villainy punished or good deed rewarded.
Profile Image for Nay Keppler.
394 reviews17 followers
July 19, 2018
Out of all the LGBTQ+ fiction I've read, this is the one that comes closest to being representative of me and my experiences as a young adult (minus the family acceptance struggles), and I'm so sad it took me so long to getting around to reading it! Pen identifies fully as female, but she struggles with reconciling that identity and enjoying stereotypical "boy activities" and wanting to "look like a boy" (having short hair, baggy clothes that do not show off her frame, etc) and being the more masculine partner in her relationships. While of course it doesn't really matter and everyone should feel free to be who they are, I always found these aspects of my life difficult to explain to people, because I never at all identified with being or wanting to be male. This book explored these feelings gently yet head-on - being too much of a girl to be one of the guys, but too dudely to be one of the girls - struggling with that in-between. I am so grateful to have come across it!
Profile Image for Dakota★Magic in Every Book.
702 reviews114 followers
February 12, 2018
I think this is a really important book. I have my qualms and it doesn't handle everything deftly, but overall, it's a powerful book about an identity I hadn't seen before in YA books. Pen, the main character, is a young teen butch lesbian or gender-nonconforming, as it were. In every YA book I've read with sapphic women, or even just female characters, there's never been one with the struggle Pen deals with as people assume and try to direct how she expresses herself. Many assume that Pen wants to be a boy or even identifies as trans, but it's not that she doesn't feel like a girl, she just doesn't connect to the gender-coded ideas people have about women. She likes her brothers clothes, working out, gaming, and often has an aversion to what people assume a girl will like, like dresses, make-up, or acting "lady-like". Pen's journey helps her become more comfortable in her identity as a woman who doesn't "fit the mold", as well as unlearning internalized sexism.

This book is HEAVY. It deals with numerous difficult and emotional topics such as abusive/controlling parents, sexual harassment/assault, abortion, queerphobia, sexist and homomisia ideas, and more. It is not a book you want to pick up for a light story. It's overall very encouraging and powerful, but there's a lot of ugliness Pen has to deal with and it can be hard to stomach.

My number one issue is that this book doesn't handle all the complex issues it crosses with a careful hand. It can come across transphobic, in which the way gender is equated as your genitals in Pen's way of thinking, which is not true, but never really addressed. Pen also uses "pussy" in a derogative manner, describes herself as looking like a "homo" when she thinks she looks ugly and out of place, and still acts like feelings are a "female issue". Pen may be improving in her manner, but there's a lot of internalized sexism and offensive language used in this book that I feel could really upset or turn people away.

This book is not perfect. The way some things are approached is done poorly and even offensively, and I in no way support that. And I know it made me cringe sometimes reading it. I would've loved if the book had time to talk about Pen unlearning certain sexist views and other bad mindsets, but that would've pushed an already chock-full book over the edge. But even though this book is flawed I think it's really important to help those who don't conform to expected gender ideals. This book approaches an aspect of gender and young female characters that I hadn't see before and I'm sure it's been important to a lot of readers to find themselves in this book. It's just a book where you have to see it's flaws and positive traits openly.
Profile Image for Tiff.
573 reviews537 followers
September 21, 2016
Review originally posted on Mostly YA Lit:

I was really excited to read Girl Mans Up by M.E. Girard because I’ve never read a novel with a gender-fluid character. I was fortunate enough to meet the author at an event at Harper Collins Canada a few weeks ago, and she’d given me the scoop: Pen is a girl who has no interest in being a boy. She happens to dress “masculine” and likes girls, but she’s not transgender. She’s okay in her body. It’s the people around her, including her parents and some of her friends, who are constantly putting the pressure on for Pen to “define” herself as a girl or boy.

What’s interesting about this character is that she IS that okay with herself. There isn’t that much self-consciousness about her body, or about what she likes. Instead of feeling ashamed of who she is, right from the beginning, Pen owns her identity, her look, and her likes and dislikes. Her voice is distinctive, authentic, and unique in YA and M.E. Girard nails it. That's the best part of this book. The synopsis doesn't do justice to just how realistic it all feels - as a girl from an immigrant family who grew up in a community kind of like Pen's, I really understood her. While I never felt as gender-fluid as Pen might feel, I did have parents who had definite ideas of what a "girl" and a "boy" should look and act like.  

While the book itself slowed down about two-thirds of the way through (it was long for a YA book), the characters sing, from Pen's brother and family to her newfound crush and friends. It's a strong debut, and I'll definitely be looking for Girard's next novel. 
Profile Image for Nic Stone.
Author 38 books4,104 followers
February 4, 2017
Long story short: EVERYBODY needs to read this book. It is one of the most poignant (and riveting!) examinations of the concept and importance of self-identification (aka how you label, and/or choose NOT to label yourself) and knowing who YOU are despite everyone else's opinions. I seriously feel more settled in my own skin now that I've read it. Probably going to read it again.
Profile Image for Jenny Baker.
1,262 reviews195 followers
June 17, 2020
3.5 stars

This book showed up on my news feed after one of my GR friends read it and rated it. It sounded interesting, so I impulsively checked my library and the audiobook was available on Cloud Library. It's a quick read/listen, but it's an important LGBT story, and definitely worth reading. I'm so glad I picked this one up.
Profile Image for Cathal Reynolds.
521 reviews23 followers
September 18, 2018
TL;DR Review (from when I actually finished the damn book)
I wanted to love this book so much, I wanted to see myself in Pen so badly, but instead I got triggered with shit I didn’t even realise I had a problem with, and honestly if I could unread this I would. Every time someone was told to ‘man up’ or stop being a ‘pussy’, or when something was ‘legit’ or ‘righteous’ I wanted to throw this book at a fucking wall.

Actual Review (from the day after I finished the damn book)
Girl Mans Up is one of only a few books I intensely dislike, and (so far) the only queer book I actually hate.
Pen is fine. Just fine, as far as characters go, but as a human, she's pretty garbage. Aside from her genderqueerness, she's not even very revolutionary. Everything about her stems from her gender identity, not from anything else, even her Portuguese heritage.
The author isn't even Portuguese, which wouldn't be an issue except that it felt like it was just included as an excuse for Pen's parents to be how they were, but that's not really a cultural thing. That's an arsehole parent thing. Pen being Portuguese didn't feel, at any point, like it was a good thing. She never seemed to be proud of it.
Despite it being about a character who doesn't ascribe to the traditional gender binary, Girl Mans Up still felt very binary. I know it's not our place to label other people, but was 'transgender' ever explicitly said? 'Non-binary' definitely wasn't. The only mentions of 'genderqueer' are from the blurbs on the back cover, and these are all things Pen definitely would've considered even if she did dismiss them. Pen barely refers to herself as 'queer', which again isn't an issue, except that when she does, it feels negative. Like we're still stuck in the years when queers didn't own that word proudly. She hates everything 'girly', she can't seem to let people who want to be 'girly' be without comment. I know that people do think this way, but it's in literature like this that people should be shown why it's not a healthy mindset.
Pen feels like a stereotype - in fact, almost every character does. Olivia was the only character I liked but even she seemed to be meant as a stereotypical girl, who got 'girly excited' at seeing her friend. And Johnny was a Real Man who made crying Manly and didn't do any of this 'girly crying'. Even crying has gender apparently.
Even in this attempt to subvert gender norms, the main theme of the story is people 'manning up' and not being 'pussies'. This shit is what got me worst about this book. This shit is what I heard every day in high school. It made me so angry every time, I wanted to scream and cry and throw up. Stop telling people how they should be, how they should act and react. It's unhealthy for everyone. It's damaging and hurtful and just plain unnecessary. Destroy the idea that showing emotions other than anger is bad, that to cry is to be weak. Emotions aren't reserved for 'girls', Pen.
Profile Image for CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian.
1,135 reviews1,398 followers
October 7, 2016
(Four stars for its potential with an olderish teen audience, three stars for how much I personally enjoyed it.)

Despite the plethora of queer YA these days, there was something that I didn’t even quite realize that was mostly missing in contemporary LGBTQ+ YA, let alone Canadian LGBTQ+ YA: stories about butch/genderqueer lesbians and their gender journeys. Girl Mans Up, by M-E Girard, delivers exactly that. In that way, it’s a new and necessary story, especially for a big publisher (HarperCollins) to be putting out in the height of fall book publishing frenzy. (The book officially came out September 6th). It’s exciting to see one of the big five publish this book—and by a Canadian author and set in Canada no less!

Girl Mans Up is nothing but very real. Carefully and authentically, Girard is completely honest about all her characters’ ugly messiness and the intricacies of the sometimes shitty, dog-eat-dog world of high school. Girard nails the teenage perspective of main character Pen, even all of her flaws, limited knowledge, and bad decisions. This book really feels like it’s written by someone who intimately knows today’s teens. If you’re looking for a superheroine who always does the right thing and astutely assesses everything around her, Pen is not your protagonist. But if you’re looking for an achingly real young queer person trying to figure out how to be herself and interact meaningfully and respectfully with those around her—with plenty of mishaps on the way— Girl Mans Up is for you...

See the rest of my review here.
Profile Image for Justin.
453 reviews41 followers
May 2, 2016
This Canadian slice of teen life offers a portrayal I haven't seen much in YA: gender-fluidity. While there are a lot of good teen LGBTQ books and an increasing focus on making transgender and intersex characters more visible, Pen is harder to categorize. She's definitely a girl, but she doesn't at all feel "femme." She continually receives static from her traditional Portuguese family and from the usual window-lickers in her town about looking like a boy, and it's never been a secret that she's into girls. But she doesn't want to be a boy; she just wants to be herself.

All of this is handled in the best way possible: as a backdrop to a very authentic story about friendship and romance. The book spends a lot of time on Pen trying to figure out her own identity, but the gender aspect is only part of a bigger question: who are my friends, and why? What does loyalty or respect really mean? Why am I spending so much time with this person, when I know he's a complete jerk? Is this girl really into me, or am I just imagining it? What do I do about the fact that my parents won't let me be who I really am?

In short, a perfectly normal story about teenagers doing teenager things and trying to figure out how to be adults.

The slang feels a little forced in places, mostly because I've moved past the point in my life where I can readily tell how teenagers actually talk anymore. Also, the family drama arc resolves itself in a very understated way, which feels authentic but also anticlimactic. Still, I was hooked on this story for all the right reasons.
105 reviews6 followers
January 15, 2019
Good things about this book:
It has original, LGBTQ+ main character, great female friendship, it is set in Canada, and good relationship with brother and sister. These made this book tolerable. Plus it was refreshing to read about high schoolers without all the cliche stereotypes. And I was kinda curious to know how this was going to end.

The idea of the book was good, but it didn't really work out.
There were more than one problematic
feature, and issues that made me want to stop reading this book.

Few of the problematic features:
1) How Pen used super harsh language all the time, using words like pussy, homo, girl, as a negative thing.
2) And her way to speak about other girls, "girly" things was very condescending.
3) Pens parents were horrible
4) As well as her friends
5) Super extra problematic, very sexual assault vibey scene, which was never mentioned again
Profile Image for - ̗̀  jess  ̖́-.
584 reviews269 followers
January 24, 2018
I feel like Girl Mans Up was a very interesting exploration of gender and sexuality that I did like reading about. However, I also felt really frustrated with the treatment of conventional girls and women throughout the novel and did think that it was misogynistic at times, something I don't think should be excused because Pen is a girl.

Pen was massively cool, though. Her character development throughout the novel was really nice, and I'm glad she learned a lot more about herself in the process. I did not like how she treated a lot of girls, though; it was really frustrating to see her constantly put things down because they're traditionally girly, and this was never addressed as well as I wanted it to be. I like that she did find respect for girls like Olivia, but I felt like Pen treated girls as weak and emotional. I know this has a lot to do with her group of friends at the beginning of the book. Like Colby. I don't think I've ever despised a book character that much in a while. But I loved Olivia a lot; she was so strong and determined throughout her whole ordeal. The romance between Blake and Pen was really cute. And this is really nerdy, but Pen's little diversion about The Last of Us game got my heart racing because I love that game, I love that moment, I love Ellie, and I love that the game has definitely sang to the hearts of sapphic girls and women.

Pen's family was ... interesting. On one hand I've never read about Portuguese culture, but on the other hand I was constantly frustrated by them and it never felt like they were budging with their stance on Pen and her gender non-conformity, which I suppose was kind of the point and it definitely worked. Johnny was cool though, and I love how he unconditionally supported Pen throughout. He might in fact be my second-favourite character in this book (to Olivia). Johnny was definitely a better parent to Pen than either of their parents were. And I'm really happy that this book was set in Canada.

Even though there were some problems with this book, I think this is still a valuable book for teen girls who find themselves in Pen's situation, and I liked reading about Pen and the people around her.

This review and more can be found on my blog.
Profile Image for McKinlay.
1,024 reviews43 followers
June 8, 2019
2/22/17 So I've read this book twice in less than 6 months because I FREAKIN LOVE IT! (and also because it was chosen as the book for my book club). but honestly, i think this may be my favorite book of all time. I'm considering doing my first book-talk on my channel with this book, just so i can gush about it. Maybe even cry. I love Pen, Johnny, Blake, and Olivia so much. I want to be best friends with them. I can't WAIT to see what else M-E Girard is going to write. I'll buy whatever it is!

9/17/16 I absolutely adored this book. Pen is a precious cinnamon roll. Blake is BAMF. Olivia is so kind and awesome. Johnny is brother goals like for real. I'm gonna try and form some coherent thoughts for a full review.
Profile Image for bianca.
356 reviews177 followers
April 12, 2017


DNF @ page 144

What's the matter with me?

Third book in a row I do not enjoy, second book I can't even find it in me to finish. This one wasn't even that bad, I guess i just found it boring. I mean, Pen was nice and all but... Meh. Her parents are assholes. Her best friend is an asshole. And I'm not in a good place in my life right now to read something filled with so much hate towards the LGBT+ community.

I might pick this one up again sometime in the future but, for now, I am gonna stay away from YA lit. It hurts like hell, but I feel like that might be the problem.
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