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Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done Hardcover – March 7, 2017
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From School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—The authors, two extremely talented teenagers who met at a summer learning program called Girls Who Code, were tired of seeing young men receive most of the encouragement to pursue STEM jobs. They were also done with men driving conversations about women's bodies. Gonzales and Houser decided to do something about it. The empowering video game they created, Tampon Run, quickly went viral and ultimately changed their lives forever. This book aims to provide students with the inside scoop on coding and what life is like for women in STEM industries. Through alternating chapters, readers discover a bit about each author's background and how she came to attend Girls Who Code. The inspiration and reason behind their magnum opus are also explored. Gonzales's and Houser's writing styles are conversational and work well to dispel the aura of inaccessibility that often surrounds works on technology. (Houser talks at length about her social anxiety, and Gonzales discusses the pressures she felt as a child of two Filipino immigrants.) Curious teens will enjoy a section at the end on getting started in coding. Gonzales and Houser never make their story sound easy, but they do show readers that success in STEM fields is more than possible for women. VERDICT Inspiring and hopeful; a great addition to libraries with novice and expert coders alike.—Elaine Baran Black, Georgia Public Library Service, Atlanta
“Brilliantly funny... Readers seeking a factual title about enterprising teens creating solutions to social problems will find Andrea and Sophie’s story inspirational” (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)
“Tech-centered empowerment for those who feel voiceless.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“[Andrea and Sophie’s] intelligence, humanity, creativity, seriousness of purpose, and humor will stick with readers, and inspire them.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Gonzales’s and Houser’s writing styles are conversational and work well to dispel the aura of inaccessibility that often surrounds works on technology… Inspiring and hopeful; a great addition to libraries with novice and expert coders alike” (School Library Journal)
“A good text to add to STEM shelves needing female-centered information.” (Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA))
“Set against the backdrop of coding camp, Girl Code is the story of two teen girls who create a viral video game and become famous—except this story isn’t fiction.” (from the article “10 Books About Coding to Inspire Girls to Lead the Next Tech Revolution”) (Brightly)
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I kinda like Photoshop, digital design in general, and web design. I took web and digital design classes in high school, but the web design class kinda devolved into a business class once the teacher left to teach math and her husband took over. We didn’t learn much about websites and coding after that.
Thankfully, Gonzales and Houser didn’t have teachers like that and were able to create the fabulous little game that is Tampon Run. Girl Code is Gonzales and Houser taking us through how the game came about and the aftermath of their viral fame. Whether you’re a STEM girl or firmly on the English/History team like I am, these girls are pretty inspiring!
The linear structure of Girl Code tracks their journey from everygirls to viral stars from start to finish to epilogue: Sophie got into coding to get over her anxiety about speaking and find a new language in which to express herself; Andy was interested in coding from a young age and took it as one of her interests even while listening to her Filipino family’s “doctor, lawyer, engineer” motto for her future. Their paths collided when they attended the same Girls Who Code summer program in the summer of 2014 and decided to partner up for their final project.
Beyond informing me that the incredible original title of Tampon Run was Texas Tampon Massacre and the game was inspired by a Huffington Post article about an abortion vote, the girls take you step-by-step through how it came together as though they’d kept very precise diaries about the process. (To be fair, Sophie did. She keeps a personal diary.) Even when the tech talk got more advanced than rudimentary little me could understand, I stuck to it. Anyone without knowledge of coding games won’t be able to replicate their work very easily, but they’ll understand what the girls are doing and that’s the important part.
The game, once they decided to release the full product online, didn’t go viral solely by chance either. The girls smartly used social media to its fullest by tweeting the link out, posting about the game on Reddit, etc. Marketing: it ain’t always fun, but you don’t get anywhere without it. Girl Code takes us through what it was like to be in the international spotlight and, even better, what they’ve done since those fifteen minutes of viral fame died down. Sophie is pursuing entrepreneurial paths to eventually create her own start-up and give back the same way people gave to her; Andy is sticking with coding.
Oh, and the girls explicitly call out the tech nightmare Gamergate movement as just a tiny, big-mouthed group of cyberbullies. 1000% AGREE, WOULD SCREAM INTO A MEGAPHONE.
In general, the book is very positive about the future of women in tech industries, but it doesn’t address the cultural issues so few women stay in STEM programs and later enter STEM professions. Y’know, rampant sexism and classmates who make them so miserable they bail. To be entirely fair, this wasn’t something I exected the book to address. If they’ve experienced that toxic tech atmosphere besides the cringeworthy radio interview they write about, they didn’t make mention of it or detail it at length.
My strongest criticism is reserved for the book’s prose. Though accessible, it’s also pretty rough and my thoughts wandered away from the text easily thanks to the basic “we did this, we did that, we felt like this” way the girls write. Nonfiction books can have engaging writing that goes beyond that and it’s clear Gonzales and Houser are not top-notch writers. Though it makes reading this short little book take a little longer, that’s still not a deal-breaker.
Gonzales and Houser’s incredible accomplishment and their determination to one day give back to women in STEM is inspiring and will make its readers want to go out and create after they read Girl Code. Video games, writing, paintings, a scholarly article about how this one historical figure was definitely gay–there are no limits on who this book will spark inspiration in. For instance, the original title Texas Tampon Massacre gave me an idea for a short story and I want to work as hard on that as the authors worked on their game.
Andy and Sophie do a wonderful job sharing the vulnerability they felt before starting new journeys and during the craziness of Tampon Run. I enjoyed how the book addressed all the self-messages we give ourselves that restrict us from trying new or hard tasks. Their gaming journey is, of course, restricted to the tech world, but the journey could easily have been written about any other field a child passionately wants to enter: putting yourself out there is hard, and if you want to succeed, you'll have to feel uncomfortable and scared sometimes.
NOTE: If you are a homeschooling parent, particularly an unschooling parent, this book is a must read! It shows: How finding a passion and following it is very rewarding and inspiriting. How high school is a limited view of the world/there is so much more than grades. How trying is always better than not trying.