Worlds and words of young adults
Like Other Girls
By Claire Hennessy Hot Key, £7.99
‘Ihave felt trapped in this body since I was 10 years old and discovered that, contrary to the impression that Judy Blume had given me, periods were neither magical nor one-off things that happened to turn you into a woman.” Lauren’s life is falling apart. Stuck between St Agnes’s, her oppressive all-girls school where her mother is principal and the LGBT+ support group where she no longer feels like she fits in, when she finds out she is pregnant she feels she has nowhere to turn.
Returning true to form, Claire Hennessy presents us with a character who is desperately trying to consolidate her two worlds. She is a bisexual young woman who becomes pregnant and in no way feels ready or willing to have the baby. She believes her friends won’t understand, her boyfriend is out of the picture and her family feels more distant than ever, so she takes matters into her own hands. The resulting narrative is a scathing look at the terrifying world of Irish reproductive choices (or lack thereof) and a young girl who desperately wants her life back and can see no other option.
What Hennessy offers us is raw and real; a glimpse into the modern teenage mindset and the culture that young people today are finding and developing as their own. Like Other Girls is a bold insight into this world, where teens are socially aware and engage in their own form of activism but also where there is no escape from the constant stream of information that demands to be consumed. Many of the battles Lauren faces take place in her mind as she falls deeper into the dark side of the web, drowning in sites that only function to exacerbate the guilt she is feeling and internalising following her decision to terminate the pregnancy.
Lauren is a flawed character in many ways and because of this she is extremely believable. Her conflicts with her peers and her parents through the novel are a direct result of her developing morals and her new experiences. She encounters the many pitfalls that can result from trying to navigate the world of social activism, such as accidentally misgendering a friend who has recently come out as transgender and assuming the girls in her class are simply vapid and “problematic” before actually getting to know them. This comes across as a new take on an old trope: the outsider realising that everyone is just trying to muddle through.
This book is a journey for Lauren in so many ways. It is as much of an education for the protagonist as the reader. It is a direct response to Ireland’s current stance regarding the eighth amendment and those who want to repeal it as well as a discussion on gender politics and LGBT+ rights. Although so much is covered through the story, at no point does it feel patronising or overwhelming, because Hennessy understands her teen audience. The young people who will be drawn to this book will be glad to see someone take their experiences and view of the world seriously. This is a book that demands to be read. It reads like a contemporary YA novel should; to the point and balanced but also allowing the young protagonist to make the journey towards finding their truth. A must-read for young socially aware and newly intrigued minds alike.