Sunday, June 19, 2022

Rules for Being a Girl by Candace Bushnell


This book is a vicious tour de force that tackles #MeToo and also what it means to be a girl in a society that pretends to be post-sexism but still infrastructurally suppresses women and people of color. Candace Bushnell and Katie Cotugno demonstrate this through their teenage heroine, Marin. Marin is a good student with a good boyfriend and she thinks her English teacher, Mr. Beckett is great, because he gets her. He calls her an old soul and treats her like an equal and not as a kid. But what he's actually doing is grooming her, and when he finally makes a move, it distresses her and eventually leads her to report him to the school principal, who doesn't do anything. And the teacher then retaliates.

While trying to grasp onto her sanity and sense of self, and other kids bullying her for making much ado about nothing (INCLUDING her own alleged best friend), Marin starts a feminist book club at the urging of another young teacher, one Ms. Klein. And the group ends up attracting boys and girls in school who are looking for more out of society, including school bad boy and resident "slut," Gray, who ends up being so much more than what the rumors about him suggest. And as Marin fights against the administration and looks for her own justice, she starts to confront some of her own internalized misconceptions-- not just about sexism, but about a lot of isms. Including some of her own.

This is just such a great book. I think the last book that made me rage cry and then joyously fist slam the book at the end was Suzanne Young's ALL IN PIECES (another vastly underrated gem that also features a bad boy with a heart of gold and a girl who challenges the system). In some ways, this reminded me of some of my favorite books from my own teen years: edgy, gritty books that didn't talk down to the readers and dealt with subjects like sex, discrimination, injustice, and uneasiness. When I was a teenager, I was bullied pretty badly, so books like these where the heroines faced horrible things and ended up okay were both relatable and validating. I needed that, and I think I would have loved this book in particular, especially for the literature-loving heroine. Every time someone tries to apologize for a YA book's bad writing by saying the reader was just "too old" to get it, I want to shove books like these in their face, that show that the best YA books can really be enjoyed by anyone because they have layers and meaning and a timeless quality that will resonate for many years to come.

Also fuck Bex. Seriously, what a skeeze. Student/teacher romance is one of the few taboo romances that makes me nope out, so as other readers have said of this book, it's satisfying to read a book that is like, "Actually, uh, this is gross and wrong and don't do this." Juxtaposing him against Ms. Klein who's "down with the kids" in a healthy way that actually involves setting boundaries was a brilliant move.

4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars

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