What Girls Are Made Of

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Reviews Young Adult - BY STEPHANIE BUCKLIN

Elana K. Arnold, Carol­rhoda Lab Hard­cover $18.99 (208pp), 978-1-5124-1024-2

Elana K. Arnold’s What Girls Are Made Of is re­al­is­tic fic­tion at its most touch­ing, fol­low­ing one young girl’s strug­gles to make her way through the world us­ing a bro­ken frame. Her at­tempts to free her­self from that lim­i­ta­tion, and to dis­cover the truth be­yond, make for a com­pelling and heart-wrench­ing jour­ney.

What Girls Are Made Of be­gins with a chill­ing scene in which teenager Nina Faye’s mother tells her that all love—even mother-daugh­ter and hus­band-wife re­la­tion­ships—comes with con­di­tions. She coldly tells her daugh­ter that sex and at­trac­tion are just two of the rea­sons that her fa­ther has for lov­ing her mother, thereby lend­ing to Nina the bro­ken world­view that she will then use to nav­i­gate the world. A few years later, when Nina is six­teen, she uses such ideas to un­der­stand her re­la­tion­ship to her boyfriend— but when he dumps her, she grows lost and confused, and she strug­gles to un­der­stand the mean­ing of love.

The novel al­ter­nates chap­ters with brief, dream­like de­scrip­tions that touch at Nina’s in­ner tur­moil. The chap­ters that she nar­rates, by con­trast, are hard and some­times me­thod­i­cal, with Nina pre­sent­ing a mask of in­dif­fer­ence to shield her in­ner pain. The im­print of her mother’s con­ver­sa­tion is on al­most ev­ery­thing she does and ev­ery­thing she thinks about, af­fect­ing how she ap­proaches the world.

What Girls Are Made Of doesn’t flinch away from stark pre­sen­ta­tions of a strug­gling teen, from her sex­ual ac­tiv­ity to her mother’s un­flinch­ing cold­ness and strug­gles. The novel is stark, but re­lat­able, and Nina’s fi­nal con­fronta­tion with her mother leads to both a frus­trat­ing—and per­fectly fit­ting—end.

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