Summary: 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, Grace’s new friends 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.
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
When I set up my reading challenge for the new year, I thought about what I wanted to read this year. Sure, picks from my physical pile are good. I decided to branch out and read stories from and about BIPOC and LGBT, which I certainly hadn’t been doing enough. But the biggest non-goal I made for myself was to read books that truly challenge the reader. The Nowhere Girls is not the first story of rape that I’ve read, but it’s one of the heaviest hitters and is done in such a way that made me want to jump out of my chair, yell, throw my fist in the air, cause total chaos for all the girls who have been sexually assaulted.
Grace, Erin, and Rosina form a unique trio who, despite their differences, come together to spread awareness and redeem justice for a girl who was gang raped the summer before. It seems so simple and yet so crazy that these girls, who have arguably nothing in common, banded together and created an underground club with other girls from their school because they genuinely cared about getting justice against the boys committed rape.
This book gets pretty gritty and heavy, but in such a realistic, educational way. The Nowhere Girls create a manifesto which means boycotting sex with their male classmates. They stand up to their male classmates despite the harassment and backlash they receive. They know they’ll most likely get caught and be in trouble, but all of these girls, who come from different backgrounds, social classes, even cliques within the school, unite because they all have one thing in common: they’re furious about how they’re treated by boys, whether it’s their significant other or not, and they’re tired of boys getting away with their actions.
The Nowhere Girls meet in abandoned buildings to discuss what should be done about the rapists, but they also talk about sex as a whole and the shame that comes with being a girl and enjoying it, feeling like you have to wait because of your religious views, feeling like you should do it because it takes back the ownership boys think they have over you. They discuss how some girls who sleep around are considered sluts while others aren’t defined by their openness to their sexuality. They talk about how even non-straight girls are targeted by boys. Their conversations prove that there are so many different opinions and feelings about sex for women, and it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a right or wrong here. What it proves is that these girls are aware of the stigmas as teenagers and will spend their entire lives facing it and trying to push back from them.
One thing I loved about this story was that it showed so many different viewpoints. One of the boys in this book runs a blog where he brags about the girls he’s had sex with and raped. He teaches other boys tactics to entice girls, which are all manipulative and disgusting. It showcases his true personality, which made me feel all the rage and so much justification for the actions the Nowhere Girls took (not that they needed it, but it helped make him a true villain in this story).
There are also chapters simply titled “Us,” which show how sometimes other girls who aren’t main characters or don’t have a name quite yet are going through situations that relate to the overall theme of the book. Some girls feel pressure to have sex by their boyfriends and question if they’re wrong for wanting to wait. Some girls use the internet to learn about masturbation. Some girls are in the middle of transitioning and are struggling internally. These are all realistic situations, and I appreciated these chapters because it might make some readers aware of what’s normal and healthy and okay. It might make some readers aware that they aren’t alone in what they’re thinking or feeling.
I could sing the praises for this book all day, but admittedly there were some minor things about this book that kept me from giving it a five-star rating. The first was how one-dimensional the adults in this story were. All three girls’ dads were almost never mentioned, and neither Erin nor Rosina had good relationships with their moms, which often made their moms seem like villains in their lives (and yes, they are teenage girls, so maybe that’s justified). Both moms struggled to understand and communicate with their daughters for different reasons, but instead of them being fleshed out characters with a real personality, they were tucked silently away. Grace’s mom was almost too perfect, loving and understanding her daughter, being proud of her constantly and encouraging her behavior. The rest of the adults in this book, the deputy, the principal, the entire teaching staff at school, fit into a one-dimensional square. They served to oppress the girls in this story. They’re a force the girls must overcome, and that’s it.
My other grievance with this book the writing was, at times, extremely juvenile. I tend to gravitate toward young adult books that I would classify more as new adult or even just contemporary with a teenager as the protagonist. I guess what I mean is that the writing is more mature and could be easily read by an older age range as well. But the writing in The Nowhere Girls made me feel almost like I’m too old to be reading it. That being said, I think the writing style here is a tool and not a crutch, because it makes the story more accessible for any and all types of readers, at any age, which is crucial when writing about such a serious, important topic.
And I think that’s the key note to take away from this story. Rape and rape culture, feminism, sexism, etc. are all such heavy-hitting subjects, but they’re extremely important to talk about, write about, scream about from the mountaintops. Nothing is ever going to change if we don’t do something about it, and for those of us who might be unsure of where to start, who want to help but feel clueless, educating ourselves is the first task. Reading these stories is where we begin.