Rebel Girls by Elizabeth Keenan
Published by Inkyard Press on September 10, 2019
my rating: ★★
Goodreads avg: 3.68 (as of 2019-09-12)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own.
When it comes to being social, Athena Graves is far more comfortable creating a mixtape playlist than she is talking to cute boys—or anyone, for that matter. Plus her staunchly feminist views and love of punk rock aren’t exactly mainstream at St. Ann’s, her conservative Catholic high school.
Then a malicious rumor starts spreading through the halls…a rumor that her popular, pretty, pro-life sister had an abortion over the summer. A rumor that has the power to not only hurt Helen, but possibly see her expelled.
Despite their wildly contrasting views, Athena, Helen, and their friends must find a way to convince the student body and the administration that it doesn’t matter what Helen did or didn’t do…even if their riot grrrl protests result in the expulsion of their entire rebel girl gang.
This book was, unfortunately, a struggle for me. I loved the cover and was excited to read a political, feminist YA. It just didn’t quite feel like that’s what I got. At first, I really enjoyed Athena’s thought processes and politics. What initially got me was how she ruminated upon the conflict one can face when trying to be a “good” feminist and respect other women while also struggling with the instinct to put them down when we feel threatened, something mainstream culture seems to have primed us to do. It gave me hope that the rest of the book would expand on this, and frame other struggles similarly.
I slowly realized that this wouldn’t go any further; sure, Athena thinks these things, but she doesn’t do them! She is judging women and putting them down based on her superficial slotting of them into roles. Every character here is just a trope, and Athena herself doesn’t make any effort to see them differently than that. We are told that Athena is a good feminist who struggles to fight against what she has been conditioned to feel for other women, but we aren’t shown this to be true. This gave the book a superficiality that made it impossible for me to become invested in.
To get more into the characters themselves, they’re truly just an amalgamation of the pop culture they consume. Everyone is described only by what they listen to or read — except the mean girls, who are cardboard cut-out characters who have absolutely no redeemable qualities and are given absolutely no sympathy. I truly don’t understand how a book supposedly about justice and girl power could write women like this, but oh well. The constant pop culture references got stale very fast, and I found myself rolling my eyes every time they were brought up.
The plot was also confusing, I didn’t really understand what the author was trying to accomplish. The focus of the book is that Athena’s sister Helen is accused of getting an abortion. The book is mostly about Athena trying to figure out how to dispel these untrue rumors, but it’s also about Athena’s relationship with some guy who she had zero chemistry with? The scenes between them felt awkward and pointless and he only existed to further the mean girl plot. In an otherwise well-done book, I could have seen it as a play on how women are used as plot devices, but I truly don’t think that was the intention here. It felt like it was just thrown in to add to the drama Athena was going through. Not to mention that I essentially had to drag myself through the book; I kept checking the Goodreads page because I couldn’t believe that this was only 300 pages.
I feel bad, because I really wanted to like this and there was the potential for some good rep — Athena’s best friend is half Vietnamese and her other best friend is black — but none of the characters were sufficiently utilized or explored. Between that and the lack of an interesting plot, this just really fell flat for me.