Back when Turning Red was released, in my opinion a superb, important and groundbreaking animated film, critic Sean O’Connell said he felt he couldn’t relate to the problems the female protagonist was facing, and outrage was sparked over the review, calling it sexist and socially blind. The outrage was warranted. The entertainment industry expects girls will watch movies with boy leads, but boys won’t watch movies with girl leads, and the male point of view is the default, something O’Connell’s review highlighted. Sean quickly apologized and the review was taken down. And it’s sad for me that I now have to write this negative review of a book that really means well and is out to make the world a better place, because as I was reading this book and really finding fault with it, I thought about how it wouldn’t make me feel clean in the head to bash it.
Not only that, I’ve delayed uploading this review for months because the ridiculous outrage I’ve seen from fragile spoiled brats about more diversity in The Rings of Power and Halle Bailey’s casting in the upcoming Little Mermaid movie make me feel like this is no time to be putting a review up that in any way weakens the messages of love and acceptance and multiculturalism.
Alas, I read it, I did not enjoy the experience, and it’s my duty to be honest about my views, and throughout this review I will do everything I can to show respect and love to the social justice cause this book advocates for.
The young ladies on the cover are Jasmine and Chelsea. And apparently at their high school, electorate activities are a requirement. One day the both of them just find they don’t fit in anymore where they are at; Jasmine is a theatre kid but is sick of always getting the stereotypical black and/or overweight girl. Chelsea has some complaints in her Poetry group about everything being from white male points of view and anything else apparently too controversial, unsafe or uncomfortable. They both quit and decide one day to start their own after-school group called Write Like A Girl, where they upload posts about some of their experiences and cool songs or books you can look into if you’re interested a lot more in advocacy for tearing down how society interprets women. The blog blows up more than they could’ve ever thought, but complaints from a few of the kids and incidents deliberately set up by those who are against their messages, aka encouragers of bigotry, cause their group to be censored by the principal. For him, it’s easier to silence what is stirring the debate rather than let the debate come to fruition and looking into signs of improvement. So now they have to think; should they risk their education and future to become inspirations, or is it too much of a gamble to be worth it?
So, that was the synopsis. Before I explain my score, let’s get this straight. I agree with everything the book advocates for. I’m in favour of a world where women should be celebrated for wearing whatever clothes make them feel like themselves. I’m in favour of a world where women’s rights and women’s voices vastly supersede those who want to say women do not deserve equality and equity with men. In the wake of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court corruption, this is especially an important message to give. I’m in favour of schools having their curriculums ensure diverse voices are heard and kids learn why it’s morally wrong to discriminate.
In fact, one of the best parts of this book is a segment that criticizes those who look down on others who don’t follow their religion. The problem I have with the book is that it’s so busy having Jasmine and Chelsea saying all of these speeches that their dialogue becomes speech-talk rather than natural talk. When Chelsea develops a crush on a boy and she’s worried about how she looks, she thinks to herself, “How antifeminism.” Could you feel how on-the-nose and unnatural that sounded?
And she begins to doubt herself at every turn on whether this guy who is so nice to her is just playing with her when he already has a girlfriend and how that is wrong for the fight for women to be heard. I know that makes Chelsea’s crush sound sleazy, but throughout the book we can tell he most certainly is not, and these thoughts about their desires to shout from the rooftops racket both protagonists’ brains during the entire school year, the time period with which this book is based, but there are many other things in their lives. Teenagers have to worry about homework, colleges, futures, and personal dreams. When 80% of a book is packed with speeches, cries for change and poems to boot about one single subject, it’s a sermon rather than a story, especially when all of this outrage on the part of Jasmine and Chelsea feels better suited for bringing down an entire corrupt government when the real antagonists for their specific situations are, while mean, not worth the same amount of consistent never-ending planning of revenge.
The main bad guys are a principal who feels their cause is too inappropriately controversial, and a creepy loser kid who is willing to put his hand on a girl’s butt. These two characters are worth fighting back against and getting called out. But compared to a lot of other story antagonists, they hardly have any presence in the book. Jasmine and Chelsea treat their situations with the same ferocity Starr did over her best friend shot and killed by an officer in The Hate U Give, but their problems, while tough, are nowhere near as bad as hers. If more time was spent making us truly angry at the specific antagonists of this book, maybe it would’ve worked. Instead it treats the entire school, friends and all, like they are the ones to blame for all the wrongdoings of society.
I was sad to have to tell this to myself, but the book flat-out irritated me. It’s one-note, repetitive, and for all of its important discussion points, leaves out the other storytelling ingredients that really bring people on board for the cause.
If you like this, I’d try On The Come Up by Angie Thomas and Slay by Brittney Morris
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