Book Review: The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed and What You Need to Know About MRAs
Three misfits come together to avenge the rape of a fellow classmate and in the process trigger a change in the misogynist culture at their high school transforming the lives of everyone around them in this searing and timely story.
Who are the Nowhere Girls?
They’re everygirl. But they start with just three:
Grace Salter is the new girl in town, whose family was run out of their former community after her southern Baptist preacher mom turned into a radical liberal after falling off a horse and bumping her head.
Rosina Suarez is the queer punk girl in a conservative Mexican immigrant family, who dreams of a life playing music instead of babysitting her gaggle of cousins and waitressing at her uncle’s restaurant.
Erin Delillo is obsessed with two things: marine biology and Star Trek: The Next Generation, but they aren’t enough to distract her from her suspicion that she may in fact be an android.
When Grace learns that Lucy Moynihan, the former occupant of her new home, was run out of town for having accused the popular guys at school of gang rape, she’s incensed that Lucy never had justice. For their own personal reasons, Rosina and Erin feel equally deeply about Lucy’s tragedy, so they form an anonymous group of girls at Prescott High to resist the sexist culture at their school, which includes boycotting sex of any kind with the male students.
Told in alternating perspectives, this groundbreaking novel is an indictment of rape culture and explores with bold honesty the deepest questions about teen girls and sexuality.
Yes, in the title of this post I mention MRAs, which we will get to in a minute, but make no mistake: this is a powerful feminist story about teenage girls. Like Moxie by Jennifer Matthieu (which comes out tomorrow), it sets its sights on rape culture in our public high schools and sends readers the important and powerful reminder that they can and should actively stand up against sexual harassment and violence. In the midst of those big themes, there are also reminders about the importance of and power of female friendship, intersectional feminism, faith of all kinds, and more.
When The Nowhere Girls get together in private places, they have what many perceive to be forbidden (and graphic) discussions about sex, sexuality, rape and more. These are frank conversations that many characters note they wish adults would have with them so that they could work on sorting it all out. In fact, some of the girls mention that they wish someone had told them they had the right to say no and other mention that they wish someone told them that it was okay to enjoy sex. As an adult reader I wish that someone had these discussions with me. Reed does a really good job in these conversations and throughout the book in presenting a wide variety of points of view on the topics without condemning any one point of view to lift up another.
The Nowhere Girls also does a really good job of giving us some good character diversity. One of the main girls is a progressive Christian with a pastor mother (which was a refreshing representation in every way even if the girl’s name is Grace), one is a Latina girl, and the other has Asperger’s. At times I wondered if the characters didn’t fall too broadly into stereotypes – the Latina character, Rosina, for example, has a big family that runs the local Mexican restaurant and she is constantly being forced to either work in the restaurant or watch her large number of cousins. Erin, the girl with Asperger’s, sticks to a rigid schedule and is obsessed with Star Trek: The Next Generation, looking to the android Data as a source of inspiration. Then throughout the book we get glimpses into many of the other girls in short vignettes. In fact, I originally stopped reading this book because of the number of voices and points of view that came up, but I picked it back up and I am so very glad that I did.
If it only ever gave us The Nowhere Girls stories and points of view, this would still be a profoundly powerful must-read, but it goes an important step further and acknowledges the very real and very toxic men’s right advocate/activist culture (MRAs). If you are not familiar with the MRA culture, it is a deep online culture (though less hidden more lately in part due to terrifying cultural and political shifts) where men discuss how to pick up and yes, how to rape, women. There are some MRAs who are fighting for things like father’s rights after divorce and an end to alimony and child support, but if you go deeper into the culture you see the types of posts that are highlighted in The Nowhere Girls.
Here are some posts to help get you started in understanding MRAs and what you read about in The Nowhere Girls:
Mad Men: Inside the Men’s Rights Movement (Mother Jones)
And right there in the pages of The Nowhere Girls author Amy Reed shares posts from an online blog called The Real Men of Prescott where they talk about things like the only role of a woman is for sex and sandwich making, how women should be submissive, and how if girls don’t give you sex, then you might just have to take it. They talk about how they get girls so drunk they can’t say no, and this is rape. These blog posts are a very real look into some of the darker parts of the online MRA movement and this is the first book I have read that talks about this part of our culture. It’s disgusting and uncomfortable, but it is oh so very necessary to talk about because it’s real and it’s happening and I want us all to acknowledge it’s existence and understand the impact it has on the world we live in.
And because this is a book review, I want to let you know that this is powerful storytelling with someone beautiful phrasing and imagery. And the ending moved me to the extreme and I hope that when girls come and tell us their stories of being a victim of sexual violence, we will believe them and move with them through life in the ways that these girls do. And sometimes, not often enough but sometimes, there is justice.
The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed is a must read by everyone 14 and older. It’s dark and graphic, but it’s also inspiring and empowering. Combined with Moxie by Jennifer Matthieu, I think this is powerful one-two punch on rape culture and feminism in our high schools that everyone should read and discuss. And never has there been a more timely book release than these two books coming out right as Betsy Devos is talking about walking back Title IX in our schools at the same time that women’s rights are once again under fierce attack by our current administration and legislators. These are the right books at the right times, and they are powerfully good book at that.
The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed releases October 10th from Simon Pulse
I happen to have a spare copy of The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed in ARC form that I picked up at ALA and I think this book is good and important, I’m doing a give away. If you live in the U.S. do the Rafflecopter thingy by Friday.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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