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What Girls Are Made of Hardcover – April 1, 2017
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"Beautifully written and evocative, What Girls Are Made Of fearlessly examines the courage and struggle of being a teenage girl in the modern world. With a deft hand, Elana K. Arnold opens up a conversation about how girls survive as a whole when they are too often acknowledged only for their parts." --Christa Desir, author of Other Broken Things
"Stunning in its honesty and depth, What Girls Are Made Of unapologetically examines the strength, determination, and vulnerability of girls. This book is for anyone who is a girl, was a girl, or wishes to glimpse the interwoven beauty and pain that comes with being a girl. With gorgeously spare prose, Elana K. Arnold has created a masterpiece that is sure to live long in the memory of readers." --Brandy Colbert, author of the Little & Lion
"Arnold interweaves myriad landscapes . . . into a narrative wholeness that is greater than its parts. Unflinchingly candid, unapologetically girl, and devastatingly vital." --starred, Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Elana K. Arnold writes books for and about children and teens. Some of her books have been included on the Los Angeles Public Library's Best Books of the Year list, the Bank Street Best Children's Books of the Year list, the YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults list, have been ALAN Picks, and have been selected for inclusion in the Amelia Bloomer Project. She holds a master's degree in Creative Writing/Fiction from the University of California, Davis, and currently lives in Huntington Beach, California, with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals.
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This is the one and only book I have read that talks about every single thing that we (speaking as a parent, teacher and librarian) like to pretend that teen girls don't think about or do, but if we think back to our time as teens.........we thought about and possibly did as well. We just didn't have this exquisite/disgusting, beautiful/disturbing, truthful/magical book to read to articulate the thoughts we had about entering womanhood and all the inequities and contradictions involved in that rite of passage. The magical realism stories between chapters are strange and disturbing, but at the same time incredibly symbolic and poetic. As the mother-daughter relationship got more and more complex as the past was revealed, I realized there was never once (that I can recall) a interaction between Nina and her father. Telling to be sure. Descriptions of virgin martyrs and twisted tales of saints are blended in throughout the story, including horrifying stories told to Nina as a child by her mother, leading readers to understand just why Nina may be the Nina she became. I appreciated the message of service and cried at the descriptions of the impossibility of unconditional love (which I disagree with, by the way).
As I wrestled with and appreciated the extremely blunt and graphic language (including detailed naming of reproductive organs and descriptions of orgasms and an abortion) within this book, I was attempting to decide whether or not I could place "What Girls Are Made Of" in my high school library.......and then I remembered that I bought and read and handed "Asking for It" by Louise O'Neill to senior girls. Because it was amazing and it won a huge award this year. And if I could hand that book to high school kids, I can hand this book to young adults. Mature ones. Is this YA like Sarah Dessen is YA? No. But neither is Angie Thomas and THUG is winning every star and award out there. And high schoolers are lining up to read it. Would I hand this to middle school girls? Not necessarily, but I'd be fine with my own daughter reading it in middle school.
What Girls Are Made of deserves awards, even if adult readers like to think girls like these don't exist. They do. They are ALL girls.
I received a digital advance reader copy of this book for review - all opinions are my own.
I was grabbed by the descriptions in the first paragraph of this book, and saw the narrator, Nina, and her mother, in the simple but important dance that all women do: fold sheets.
And then I could not put the book down. I read, and read, and read, until I was finished reading. Which is HUGE for me, because I have a hard time concentrating these days (thanks, Sick Person Body and #InvisibleIllnesses).
The book is sad, and lonely, and perfectly describes the confusion that girls feel. The longing for someone to love you unconditionally, the longing for someone in particular, the hurt when it doesn't work out. The embarrassment of having a woman's body: the periods, the small breasts, the shoes, the desire to look slutty, while not being a slut, etc.
The book weaves together short "stories" that were supposedly written by Nina for a class project, and her past and present experience with love: family love, friend love, boyfriend love. The stories focus on female saints who were mutilated - a poignant look at women who were adored and then reviled.
The book does deal with some tough issues: abortion, teenage sex, death, parents who aren't really there, etc. But I hope lots of girls read this book, and realize they are not alone in how they feel.
I admire the author for channeling her anger at being a girl (and love; we can't imagine being anything else) into this work.
My only negative comment is that: there was quite a build up to the "bad" thing Nina did to a new classmate, but when I finally got it, to my imagination had built it up to be far worse. But then, I haven't been in high school for many many years, so perhaps it is as bad as it is made out to be.
Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This has no bearing on my review. I never guarantee a positive rating, and all thoughts and opinions are my own.