Trigger warning that there are various sexist and misogynistic comments directed towards females, homophobia, and non-consensual physical contact depicted in Like Other Girls.
In her new young adult book Like Other Girls, TV writer and author Britta Lundin (Ship It) introduces us to Mara, a teenage girl in high school who wants to be “one of the guys.” That identity that Mara wants and struggles which is challenging to attain when you are gay but have yet to come out, your mother wants you to be feminine and girly, and you live in the small, conservative, and rural Elkhorn, Oregon.
Because she fought with one of her teammates Carly, who Mara views as a nemesis, she got kicked off the basketball team. Before she can rejoin, she has to prove to her coach that she can be part of a team and not get into trouble. For a character like Mara, who is filled with anger generally directed to those around her and herself, that is not an easy task. Her coach set it up so that Mara could join the volleyball team, but instead, she joins the football team where her best friend Quinn and her brother Noah, who is the captain, are part of the team.
At first, Quinn encourages Mara to join the team, but that doesn’t last long. Her brother Noah, who Mara has a rocky relationship with already, gets worse. Then there is the team and parents who are not thrilled with Mara being the latest team member. But just as things seem to be getting better for Mara, four other girls join the team. Of those four girls who join is Carly, her nemesis but who is also openly out and champions for LGBTQ+ rights, and Valentina, Mara’s crush. Earning the name Elkhorn Five, much to her dislike, Mara finds herself grouped in and held to the standards and compared to the four that joined because they found her joining the football team inspiring. This adds to Mara’s anger, and she is rather rude to them.
Mara finds perspective while working on Jupiter’s farm. Jupiter, who is gay and in a same-sex relationship, is new to town and is comfortable with who she is and doesn’t apologize for it. Mara and Jupiter’s friendship could also be seen as Jupiter mentoring Mara as she challenges Mara’s actions and beliefs while still being supportive. This relationship truly helps in Mara’s overall growth as a character. Mara even wants to change her plan from wanting to get an athletic scholarship to move away for college and then come out far away from her family that does not accept her for who she is, especially her mom. Because seeing Jupiter and, yes, even Carly live life in the open gives her an example of what Mara’s life could be, and she likes it.
Mara and her point of view primarily tell the narrative, and as a character, her headspace feels accurate to who she is. That can make the book hard to read at times. I liked that the story and main character Mara went from just wanting to be “one of the guys” to realizing and understanding that there are various ways to be a girl. Mara’s story was authentic and entirely relatable for some people. Seeing her anger and contempt towards others and herself lessen as she gradually lets people in, gains confidence, and comes to terms with herself and her sexuality is not a quick process. So seeing the character’s layers peel back felt real, which I enjoy reading in LGBTQ+ literature. It is something that has the YA entertainment value but is relatable to real-life situations for those reading it so they can feel seen and heard. The ending I found a little conflicting, but it also leaves it open for a continuation, which I do hope happens.
Thank you to Netgalley for an advanced copy of Like Other Girls to review. Like Other Girls is out now!