Review: Like Other Girls by Claire Hennessy

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Like Other Girls

Claire Hennessy

Hot Key Books (2017)

YA, Contemporary

Like Other Girls is the story of Lauren, a 16-year-old bisexual girl grappling with the sometimes harsh realities of being a young woman in contemporary Irish society. Lauren is struggling with her identity – with the expectations of perfect femininity espoused by her all girls school, with dismissive attitudes towards bisexuality she finds even within the LGBTQIA community, and with her relationships, particularly with her boyfriend and the best friend she is still somewhat in love with. Then, she finds out she is pregnant. Readers familiar with Irish law will know the implications of this for Lauren, as she journeys alone to England for an abortion.

Lauren is a complex protagonist, and one in an incredibly difficult situation. She makes some bad choices, and Hennessy doesn’t shy away from showing Lauren’s darker and more ‘problematic’ (to use a much discussed word) thoughts. At times this can make for uncomfortable reading, particularly when Lauren is dealing with a close friend (whom she still has feelings for) coming out as transgender, or considering the degree of privilege you have as a cisgender woman in a country that denies women bodily autonomy. I do wish some of Lauren’s attitudes had been challenged a bit more, the transphobia in the book did make me uncomfortable, however her friend Ellie does call her out and at the end of the book there is a sense of Lauren growing as a person. Besides, in other ways Lauren’s flaws are a strength of the book and part of the way it pushes back against the pressure on girls to always be perfect.

Hennessy’s book is incredibly timely and will make readers angry. She uses articles very similar to those Irish readers will have encountered over the last few years, and a chilling scene in which her protagonist is given misleading and false information at a ‘counselling’ service. It evokes a very true-to-life sense of what it is like to be female in a country in which you don’t have bodily autonomy, in which abortion is illegal, and in which girls and women like Lauren must travel to the UK every single day for a medical procedure that should be available safely and legally in their home country. The trauma Lauren goes through makes the book painful to read, and shows how damaging the lack of access to abortion in Ireland is. Acclaimed Irish writer Marian Keyes has said that this book ‘all but quivers with righteous anger’, and I think its readers will too.

Like Other Girls tackles a number of very sensitive topics without falling into that dangerous trap of becoming an issue novel, without moralising or preaching, and without demonising its protagonist or giving her an unrealistic ‘happily-ever-after’ type ending. It is also a funny book, filled with pop culture and musical references, and with a strong, snarky voice at its centre. It also has a fantastic cover – it’s a label! for a book about labels! – designed by Leo Nickolls.

To sum up – Like Other Girls is a fierce, feminist book that while not an easy read, is an important one. We need stories like Lauren’s, and we need to repeal the eighth amendment.

Like Other Girls will be launched tonight, May 25th, in Dept 51 at Eason O’Connell Street at 6pm.

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