AUTHOR: Candace Bushnell & Katie Cotugno
CATEGORY/AUDIENCE: Young Adult
RELEASE: April 7, 2020
PUBLISHER: Balzer + Bray
LINKS: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository
Marin’s senior year is going perfectly: she’s got a great boyfriend and friends, she’s on track to get into her dream college, and she’s the editor of her school newspaper, where she’s mentored by her cool, young teacher Mr. Beckett. But Marin’s just-about-perfect life is shaken up when Mr. Beckett, or “Bex,” hits on her–and worse, no one believes her. Forced to see Bex every day and suddenly aware of all the things girls experience, Marin begins a feminist book club where she (and other girls) can have a safe space to talk about these issues. As Marin journeys further into feminism, she realizes she can’t let what happened be swept under the rug.
Rules for Being a Girl is a valuable addition to contemporary feminist YA literature that tackles sexism and sexual harassment. While hard to read, Bex’s grooming of Marin is something that happens to so many teen girls, and I’m so glad there are more books like this talking about it. This novel is very much about speaking up against injustices, and taking back your power. Feminism is obviously an overarching theme of Rules for Being a Girl, and I love the message that feminism is a journey. Before her experience with Bex, Marin knows little about feminism, but throughout the novel we watch her learn and grow. She’s by no means a perfect feminist, but she’s aware of her privilege and is working to unpack her own internalized misogyny.
Marin is a relatable character that I became more and more invested in as she went further into her feminist journey. She makes a lot of mistakes and isn’t always a perfect ally to other girls, but she’s willing to put in the work and better her feminism. Her experiences are an accurate representation for a lot of young folks who aren’t aware of intersecting forms of oppression until they witness or experience it. Bushnell and Cotugno also bring home the reminder that feminism is for everyone: Marin’s book club is a diverse group of students of all grades and backgrounds, including Gray, Marin’s love interest. While the romance isn’t the central plot, Gray served as a perfect reminder that boys can and should be feminists. Gray actively works to learn more about feminism and be a better ally to Marin, and I’m so here for that.
Rules for Being a Girl is also a story about friendship, which I always love! Marin and her BFF Chloe’s relationship is strained by Bex’s harassment, especially when Chloe dismisses the harmful nature of his behavior. While difficult to read, this was such an important addition to the story–it illustrates the need for us to believe survivors of sexual abuse or harassment, and for girls to support girls. I loved that Marin had other meaningful relationships; in particular, her grandmother was a fierce feminist and the bond that they had added so much depth to the story. Throughout the novel, Marin’s grandmother is experiencing memory loss, which was heartbreaking but added a layer of family dynamics that worked well. Another stand-out character was Ms. Klein, Marin’s teacher who becomes the advisor for the Feminist Book Club, and became an ally and mentor to Marin on her feminist journey. I love the representation of women across ages and generations developing meaningful relationships and working together to dismantle the patriarchy.
Rules for Being a Girl is a quick, easy read that will keep readers engaged until the very end. Together, Bushnell and Cotugno have an easy-flowing voice that makes this an excellent pick for teens still trying to discover their love of reading, and it’s also a great introduction for teens who are new to feminism. While there are some supporting queer and POC characters, many of the central characters are white, cis, and straight, so I would strongly recommend pairing this book with some queer and POC YA authors; Elizabeth Acevedo, Renee Watson, Brandy Colbert, Erika L. Sánchez, Tehlor Kay Mejia, Anna Marie McLemore, and Lilliam Rivera are some great ones to start with. Rules for Being a Girl is also perfect for readers who enjoyed Moxie, The Nowhere Girls, Watch Us Rise, or Girl Made of Stars.
Bushnell and Cotugno have crafted a story about what it means to be a girl today. It’s about the rules, expectations, and fears girls live with as they navigate the world. But it’s also about what happens when girls decide they can’t–and won’t–follow those rules anymore. It’s about power and privilege, and fighting against injustices. It’s about admitting that you’re flawed and working to be a better person and a better ally. Rules for Being a Girl is a book that so many teens need, and I’ll definitely be recommending it at my library to pair alongside other feminist novels.
Thank you to Balzer + Bray and Edelweiss+ for the free digital review copy.