Cover of Girls With Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young. A white woman removes part of her face, revealing a more serious face beneath

About the Book

Title: Girls With Sharp Sticks (Girls With Sharp Sticks #1)
Published: 2019

Cover Story: Unmasked
Drinking Buddy: Religious Kid
Testosterone Estrogen Level: Elevated
Talky Talk: Yes, Master
Bonus Factors: Stepford Wives, Weird Boarding School
Bromance Status: Let Me Take Your Jacket…

Cover Story: Unmasked

Very nice. The ‘real’ face is not angry or scared, just vaguely serious and slightly contemptuous. This girl is either hiding something or works in customer service.

The Deal:

Mena lives at the Innovations Academy, where girls are taught to be well-rounded and obedient. They take courses in flower arranging and table manners. They take care of their appearance, and they prepare themselves for their future roles as housewives, and…well, housewives.

Mena has always been the perfect student. She listens to her teachers, her guardian, the headmaster, the doctor, and any other (male) authority. She wants to be good. She wants to be perfect.

But one day during a rare field trip, Mena bends the rules a bit to buy junk food (her one vice) at a gas station. And there she meets Jackson, a local boy. Their pleasant conversation is interrupted when the guardian drags her back to the bus, slightly injuring her. This infuriates Jackson, who later sneaks into the academy to check on her. To Mena’s surprise, Jackson informs her that her upbringing is decidedly not normal. Courses in makeup and how to set a table are not standard curriculum. Most people slap a band aid on a cut rather than rush to the doctor for an emergency skin graft. And why do her parents never ever visit?

When a girl named Valentine has a bit of a breakdown and is sent to ‘impulse control therapy’, Mena begins to worry. Then another girl vanishes. They say her parents could no longer afford the tuition, but she didn’t even take her shoes with her. Just what are in those vitamin pills they give everyone every night? Why does she have recurring dreams of things that never happened?

The deeper Mena digs, the darker the secrets she uncovers. She’s been trained to be a beautiful rose. But roses have thorns.

Drinking Buddy: Religious Kid

Two pints of beer cheersing

Mena has had a rather sheltered life. No newspapers, no internet, no television, and only infrequent movies (usually shoot ’em up flicks that the Guardian likes). She finds it hard to believe her parents and the academy don’t have everyone’s best interests at heart. She was kind of like the religious kid in a group: it’s not that they don’t want to have fun, they simply don’t know how.

Testosterone Estrogen Level: Elevated

Now while Jackson makes infrequent appearances and obviously would like to be more than a news source to Mena, this is not a lovey dovey book. It’s action. While the events start out slow, there are secret medical labs, creepy guards, disappearances, a girl who seems to have been lobotomized by her therapy, and weird flashes of a greasy, lustful man that Mena can’t shake. Just what secret is the academy hiding? Does Mena really want to find out?

Talky Talk: Yes, Master

Due to Mena’s odd upbringing, she doesn’t have much of a personality, at least not in the beginning. And because she’s been so sheltered, we don’t have much of an idea of what’s going on outside of the school. Is this the present? The near future? Jackson seems like a normal, modern kid, but he’s not in the picture a lot. They keep mentioning ‘The Federal Flower Garden’, which seems like some kind of future dystopian thing. Maybe it’ll all be clearer in the sequels.

Once Mena realizes that her friends are in danger, she starts becoming a force to be reckoned with, and gets a little scary there at the end. Guys like Jackson can be heroic, but he knows that as a boy, he’s expected to be brave and proactive. But when you corner a woman who’s been treated like a thing all her life…that’s when the fangs come out.

Bonus Factor: Stepford Wives

Cropped movie poster of The Stepford Wives

Not the 2004 remake, but the original 1975 film, as well as the Ira Levin novel. Women go from free-thinking, intelligent, flawed humans to mindless, obedient, ‘perfect’ ladies. This same thing is happening at the Innovations Academy. What’s going on? How are they getting away with it? And does the Disney Corporation have something to do with it? (well, no, but they did in the Stepford movie)

Bonus Factor: Weird Boarding School

Regal old boarding school building with turrets and ivy on the stone walls

When we think boarding school, we think Hogwarts. But this academy is a little darker. The headmaster seems to have more than a parental interest in Mena. The guardian is too handsy. They feed the girls pills. They have no contact with home. They undergo therapy that involves a lot of needles. I think I’ll stick to public school.

Bromance Status: Let Me Take Your Jacket…

And hold it for you while you kick ass. I’ll be over here.

Literary Matchmaking

Beauty Queens

For the original sweet adorable girls kicking butt book, look no further than Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens.

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy (Montague Siblings #2)

‘No, I don’t think I want to be a housewife.’ So read The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Pirates, by Mackenzi Lee.

Dumplin’ (Dumplin’ #1)

And who cares if you’re not a size one! Pick up the classic Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy right now.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher but no money or kisses, chocolate or otherwise.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.