About the Book

Title: Girl Mans Up
Published: 2016
Swoonworthy Scale: 8

Cover Story: Lean On Me
BFF Charm: Big Sister
Talky Talk: 2 Legit 2 Quit
Bonus Factors: Traditional Parents, Gaming, Boy George, Dean Winchester Award for Cool Older Brotherhood, Suburbia
Relationship Status: No-Bullshizz Friends

Cover Story: Lean On Me

I love big, bold colours, so I’m willing to give this cover a pass on its questionable depiction of self-described pudgy Pen. (Photographing and therefore illustrating from above has a slimming effect?)

The Deal:

Pen Oliveira might not fit into the traditional idea of femininity, but she’s exactly the type of girl that she wants to be. Not a tomboy, nor someone who’s trying to be a boy, but just… Pen. Now if only everyone else — her overbearing parents, her controlling friends — could LET HER LIVE. But if that’s ever going to happen, Pen will have to man up to stand up for herself.

BFF Charm: Big Sister

BFF Charm Big Sister with Clarissa from Clarissa Explains It All's face

Even though I’d gladly call Pen my friend and she already has it covered in the older sibling department (more on that later), I’d like to impart a bit of tough love. Hey, Pen? YOUR FRIEND COLBY IS AN ASSHOLE. OK, that’s a little simplistic, but the main takeaway is YOU SHOULD STOP BEING FRIENDS WITH HIM. It isn’t easy, I know, to sever old ties like that. But that friendship is running its course — and you know it just as well as I do. In the immortal words of the queen, TELL HIM, ‘BOY, BYE’.

Swoonworthy Scale: 8

Blake is a gamer’s dreamgirl, but Pen isn’t sure if she even likes girls, let alone this girl. Once the nervous butterflies settle down, though, that relationship get S-T-E-A-M-Y. But the overall swoon gets deductions for Colby’s less-than-romantic entanglements.

Talky Talk: 2 Legit 2 Quit

Girard’s characters are painfully, realistically flawed. Pen and her friends use their share of problematic language, which is all too authentic, no matter how much it makes me cringe (I personally can’t stand a certain ‘insult’ that equates vaginas with weakness). And through Girard’s compassionate storytelling, no one is truly a complete villain; even if I don’t agree with their POV, I can still understand where they’re coming from (… much to my chagrin when the impulse to RAGE OUT is stronggggg). It’s no wonder that this book earned a 2017 Morris Award honour for best YA debut!

Bonus Factor: Traditional Parents

As first-generation immigrants, Pen’s parents have raised their kids to follow the culture and traditions that they brought with them from Portugal. I related SO MUCH with the communication problems between Pen and her parents; being more comfortable in different languages means there’s never a conversation in which both sides are on equal playing field and being understood exactly as they intend. 

Bonus Factor: Gaming

Video game controller

As a major gamer, Pen definitely knows her way around console games — including, unfortunately, the pitfalls of online gaming as a girl. (Spoiler alert: it sucks.)

Bonus Factor: Boy George

No, not the one from Culture Club — but a boy Regina George, whom manipulative golden boy Colby reminds me of. And even though he’s Bad News Bears, I totally get both why Colby’s the way he is and why his friends put up with him.

Bonus Factor: Dean Winchester Award for Cool Older Brotherhood

The big age difference between Pen and her big bro, Johnny, means that he’s always looking out for her, even when she’s not aware of it.

Bonus Factor: Suburbia

Living in a (fictional) suburb of the Greater Toronto Area, Pen’s social life involves a lot of hanging out at the mall and even more strategizing on how to get around without a car (aka my adolescence, minus being in the GTA). And not gonna lie — I took so much delight in all the Canadianisms sprinkled throughout the novel.

Relationship Status: No-Bullshizz Friends

This book keeps it real with me. Even when it’s not pretty. Especially when it’s not pretty. But the result is all the more spectacular for it, and I’m so glad to have this book in my life and on my shelf. 

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Katherine Tegen Books. I received neither money nor gelato for writing this review (dammit!). Girl Mans Up is available now.

Mandy (she/her) lives in Edmonton, AB. When she’s not raiding the library for YA books, she enjoys eating ice cream (esp. in cold weather), learning fancy pole dance tricks, and stanning BTS. Mandy has been writing for FYA since 2012, and she oversaw all things FYA Book Club from 2013 to 2023.