Today, I’m reviewing a powerful, timely story that really got me thinking. What Kind of Girl forces you to reexamine your initial perceptions and ask some difficult questions about our culture.
I was lucky enough to be gifted a copy by Atom Books and Stephanie Melrose, so thank you so much to them for sending me this wonderful book in exchange for an honest review.
Trigger warnings: domestic abuse, explicit absence of consent, bulimia, descriptions of self-harm (cutting), on-page panic attack, infidelity, ableist language, slut-shaming
The girls at North Bay Academy are taking sides. It all started when Mike Parker’s girlfriend showed up with a bruise on her face. Or, more specifically, when she walked into the principal’s office and said Mike hit her. But the students have questions: Why did she go to the principal and not the police? Why did she stay so long if he was hurting her? Obviously, if it’s true, Mike should be expelled. But is it true? Some girls want to rally for his expulsion – and some want to rally around Mike. The only thing that the entire student body can agree on? Someone is lying. And the truth has to come out.
The issue of abusive relationships is one that needs to be shouted about. Personally, this is something that I feel incredibly strongly about and I was drawn to What Kind of Girl because of its core issue. I felt like Sheinmel showed aspects of abuse really well, from the more subtle and insidious manipulation, coercive control and gaslighting, to the physical and sexual abuse. Showing these different aspects highlights how it’s not just physical violence that constitutes abuse, which I think a lot of people my age aren’t necessarily aware of.
Sheinmel has crafted an interesting cast of characters, particularly the main narrators . Without spoiling who they are, these are relatable, complex, realistic female characters, grappling with huge issues. They feel well-rounded and in-depth, allowing me to connect and almost share their thoughts and feelings. You can feel their sheer hopelessness at points, but I really liked the message that while recovery isn’t easy or a straight path, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The chapters are literally labelled and we don’t learn the name of the victim until the end of the first section, which I thought was a really interesting way of showing how the victim is often marginalised and ignored in a toxic culture. The conversation often pivots around the accused and how the accusation may impact their life, sidelining the victim and this needs to stop.
I really liked how the writing style matched the confusion of the characters, with a very stream-of-consciousness style that helped me navigativate the messy complications of each situation. The structure of the story also forced me to reexamine my thoughts about what had gone before and I really liked this introspective, thought-provoking aspect of the book.