Worlds and words of young adults

Like Other Girls

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - ARTS & BOOKS - Lor­raine Le­vis

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.

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