Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed
Although I didn’t plan it this way, my timing for picking up this book was perfect. My reading of Nowhere Girls coincided with the Women’s March and the Times Up / #metoo movement. This could be the official YA novel of the movement.
When Grace’s mother is shamed from her position as “guest speaker” in their extremely conservation Southern Baptist Church in Kentucky, her family moves to Eugene, Oregon, where Mom is given the pastorship of a more free-thinking, non-denominational church. In her new bedroom, she finds disturbing words etched in the wood around the window and inside the closet - “Kill me now,” “I’m already dead,” and more. She learns that the previous resident of her bedroom was a girl named Lucy, a freshman girl who had been gang raped at a party and not believed when she told. At school, she gets labeled a slut. It doesn’t take Grace long at her new school to learn that the guys at Prescott High haven’t changed since Lucy’s rape. The culture at this school is toxically misogynistic. Girls are harassed, judged, insulted, and groped and the adults don’t do anything about it. They even run an anonymous blog called “The Real Men of Prescott” where they demean women and brag about their sexual conquests. Grace can’t stand it. She convinces her new friends, Rosina and Erin, to join her in creating an anonymous group called The Nowhere Girls, whose purpose is to eradicate misogynism from their school. They illegally obtain the email addresses of all the girls in the school and send an email inviting them to a meeting. And the resistance begins
Although the main focus of the book is obviously the toxic culture of the school the book includes some really well-done side stories, as well. In addition to Grace, Rosina and Erin are also main characters and the story is told from all three of their POVs. Rosina is part of a large Mexican extended family, including her single mother. She is burdened by many family responsibilities including working at the family restaurant and babysitting many cousins. She (rightfully) feels unappreciated and unable to be herself. Erin moved to Eugene when she was thirteen after some kind of sexual incident left her unable to cope. On top of this trauma, Erin is an Aspie (someone who has Asperger’s Syndrome) with many challenges she must face every day. Erin’s character is fascinating and was obviously meticulously researched by the author. A fourth POV called, “Us,” is also featured. This POV includes various female characters at Prescott High and is meant to represent all the different types of girls - a cheerleader, a girl who sleeps with everyone because of her low self-esteem, a girl who enjoys sex with her boyfriend, girls questioning their sexuality, and many, many others.
A slight complaint I have with the book is that I wish more strong boys would have been presented. There are two or three (which is certainly better than none) but this lack of reasonable male voices made it seem like all the guys at the school were pigs. However, the good guys are really good and some of the girls in the “Us” POV show us that women benefit from loving and supportive men in their lives. So, this is certainly not a man bashing book. I understand that it would have been difficult for the author to do the “good boys” justice without losing focus on the story’s main themes. Another problem I had was with the adults in leadership positions, including the sheriff, the principal, and the football coach. They were all not only unsupportive of the girls trying to change their school environment but were downright against it, to the point that they were actively trying to cover it up. I found this portrayal to be unrealistic. I do understand, though, that it was necessary for the dramatic tension in the story.
Author, Amy Reed, says many aspects of her book were inspired by actual events that took place in her home of Asheville, North Carolina. Owners of the gourmet coffee shop, Waking Life, were busted for being disgusting, misogynistic, women haters when it was discovered that they were the ones behind the Twitter feed and podcast called “Holistic Game” whose most well-known post is entitled, “A Breakdown of All My Lays.” Read the story here (strong language alert):
Nowhere Girls is one of those books that every teen should read. Reed does a really great job explaining misogynistic culture and its effect on girls. Be aware, though, that the language in this book is STRONG - especially The Real Men of Prescott blog entries. For a milder book with similar themes, I recommend Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu. I would also recommend Moxie to those that read and enjoy Nowhere Girls.