Portuguese American Penelope ‘Pen’ Olivera feels like she’s not really a girl, but doesn’t want to be a boy either. Over the course of her 11th grade, she finds her identity, falls in love, and makes some real friends who want her for herself, not what she can do for them.
Pen’s family is beyond dysfunctional: her parents are obsessed with their traditional idea of familial respect, and neither Pen nor her beloved older brother Johnny deliver this. Pen also learns that her longtime friend Colby is toxic to her and to other girls.
Though the book is needlessly meandering, and the characters can be tiresomely self-obsessed and inarticulate, it feels like an authentic portrait of a blue collar immigrant family and the struggles of the second generation with its feet in two camps that are worlds apart.
Pen is a well-drawn questioning teen, and her relationships with both Johnny and her girlfriend Blake ring true, but her friendship and support of Olivia, discarded by Colby, never has that same ring of truth, and feels like a rather heavy handed plot device.
With its eye catching cover and very of the moment gender questioning theme, Girl Mans Up will deservedly attract readers.