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Take a look at several book reviews from students in ENG502, on the topic of representations of girlhood in YA novels


Merci Suárez Changes Gears

Merci Suárez Changes Gears

Meg Medina. New York: Candlewick Press, 2018

In her article “Under the Shadow of Empire: Indigenous Girls’ Presencing as Decolonizing Force” (2014), Sandra de Finney explores how “Presencing” acts as a decolonizing force during traumatic violence that girls endure according to In her book, Merci Suarez Changes Gears, Meg Medina exhibits the principles of contestation and creativity inherent in the framework of indigenous girls “presencing” in the face of colonial violence. Merci is continuously suppressed by the adults in her life and upheld to standards of femininity in which she has no interest. Like the indigenous girls who Sandrina de Finney interviews for her article, Merci resists forces that are trying to make her conform to certain ideals.

- Natalie

In her article, “Girl Power: Postmodern Girlhood Lived and Represented” in the journal Visual Arts Research (2011), Scholar Olga Ivashkevich analyzes Rebecca Hains’ examinations of other female characters who “employ ‘niceness’ as their underlying attitude,” which, as a result, reframe any actions of intelligence and physical power as non-threatening and socially acceptable. In Merci Suárez Changes Gears, Merci’s antagonist, Edna, is perceived as likable and high in the social hierarchy. When Edna retorts “Shut it” at the snickering boys in Merci’s defense, she does so with a smile. This demonstrates how her outward act of assertion is still socially acceptable and uncontested because of her inherent niceness, as demonstrated by her smile. Because her outward expressions are sweeter and more feminine, she is still in possession of girl power.

- Melissa

The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give

Angie Thomas. New York: Harper Collins, 2017

While The Hate U Give is about the navigation of social and racialized spaces, where Black girls/women practice for the sake of surviving and preserving their sense of citizenship—shapeshifting. Scholar Aimee Meredith Cox details some of the forms of shapeshifting that Black girls practice as they navigate various spaces in her book, Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship (2015). Cox writes, “Shapeshifting is an act, a theory, and, in this sense, a form of praxis that—although uniquely definitive of and defined by Black girls— reveals our collective vulnerabilities.


At the surface level, Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give is a novel about sixteen-year-old Starr, who faces police brutality and speaks out about injustice after witnessing the death of her friend Khalil. But, through a deeper analysis of the way music is used in the novel, this story creates a powerful statement about how music can demonstrate antiblack and pro-Black messages. In “The Whiteness of Tween Innocence” by Tyler Bickford, he analyzes how race and music are interconnected, claiming that tween music is deeply invested in whiteness as a foundational value. Therefore, through Bickford’s framework, Thomas’s use of Taylor Swift’s music in the opening scene promotes an anti-black sentiment while the reference to Beyoncé’s music in another scene demonstrates a pro-Black femininity sentiment.


In The Hate U Give, an initial act of “presencing” gives Starr Carter the power to assert her identity, especially as it is seen through her complicated friendship with Hailey. While at first Starr restrains herself from speaking out against Hailey’s racist comments and actions, Starr ultimately finds the power within herself to call out Hailey’s actions and to challenge them as racist.  By challenging the harmful conceptions Hailey holds, Starr uses interactions with Hailey as an act of presencing by asserting the truth of her Black identity.


When You Trap a Tiger

When You Trap a Tiger

Tae Keller. New York: Random House, 2020

In her article “Under the Shadow of Empire: Indigenous Girls’ Presencing as Decolonizing Force”, Sandrina de Finney examines girlhood experience from the point of view of Indigenous girls in Canada. Finney uses the term “presencing” as a “girlhood praxis to unpack the pervasive image of Indigenous girls as exploitable and dispensable” (20). Similarly, When you Trap a Tiger is about Lily using “presencing” to discover her own cultural identity and through that knowledge she finds a means to make her presence. While de Finney’s framework of presencing is specific to the indigenous girls in Canada, here the framework can be applied in Keller’s novel to Lily’s position and her Korean identity.


In When You Trap a Tiger, the main character Lily expresses her cultural identity and girlhood through her interactions with a mythical tiger as she struggles with the knowledge of her grandmother’s illness, her personal invisibility, and the breakdown of her familial relationships. Although “presencing” in de Finney’s definition is applied to the experiences of Indigenous girls, similar experiences of cultural suppression and erasure are consistent in other groups affected by colonialism. “Presencing” reveals the difficulty that Lily and her family face when they try to fit their culture into a new environment where their family is markedly different from others.


The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Kelly Barnhill. New York: Algonquin Young Readers, 2016.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a fantasy centered on Luna, the latest in a line of babies that the people of the Protectorate sacrifice to the “evil” witch of the forest as a trade to keep their town safe. However, we soon discover that the witch isn’t evil, but is a kind, old witch named Xan, who rescues the sacrificed babies and helps them get adopted into families in the Free Cities. When she rescues Luna, she accidentally feeds her the Moonlight, which causes her to be free-spirited and wild. In Susan Cahill’s article, “Where are the Irish Girls?”, Cahill discusses how Irish girls in British Literature needed to “be taught manners” due to being too wild. Like these girls, Luna remains happily untamed despite her family’s pressure to tame her.


Articles referred to in these reviews are:

Bickford, Tyler. "Tween Pop: Children's Music and Public Culture." The Whiteness of Tween Innocence. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020.

Cahill, Susan. "Where Are the Irish Girls?: Girlhood, Irishness, and LT Meade." Girlhood and the Politics of Place, edited by Claudia Mitchell and Carrie Rentschler, Berghahn Books, 2016, pp. 212-27. JSTOR, https://doi.org/1-.2307/j.ctt14jxn16.17. Accessed 12 Jul. 2022.

Cox, Anne Meredith. Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship. Aimee Meredith Cox. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015.

de Finney, Sandrinna. "Under the Shadow of Empire: Indigenous Girls' Presencing as Decolonizing Force." Girlhood Studies 7.1 (204): 8-26. Web.

Ivashkevich, Olga. "Girl Power: Postmodern Girlhood Lived and Represented." Visual Arts Research, vol. 37, no. 2, 2011: pp. 14-27. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.5406/visuartsrese.37.2.0014. Accessed 12 Jul. 2022.