Review of What's a Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne
What's a Girl Gotta Do?
by Holly Bourne
Some books are meant to be sipped and savoured over the course of many days. You have to engage with them gradually, wade into them and wait for their temperature to feel comfortable against your mind. Other books demand to be devoured in a single sitting. I’ve determined that, for me, Holly Bourne’s books are the latter. Once I start reading them, I can’t put them down. I started What’s a Girl Gotta Do? on the Friday morning of my March Break, and I immediately knew that I wasn’t getting any work done until I had finished this.
The third book in Bourne’s Spinster Club trilogy, What’s a Girl Gotta Do? features Lottie. The most outspoken and bookishly feminist of the three girls, Lottie might actually be my favourite character—or at least, probably the one I can most identify with, given the vastly disparate life experiences between me and these three! I just love how loud Lottie is. I can imagine her voice in my head, the volume always a little louder than one might want in more intimate conversations, buoyed by Lottie’s sheer enthusiasm for feminism and social justice. She’s just awesome.
In this book, Lottie decides she has to embark on a special project. Named the Vagilante Project (vagina + vigilante) by Amber, the project entails Lottie calling out every instance of sexism she observes at least once. She will do this on camera, aided by Evie’s film peer, Will. When Lottie starts the project, she is fired up to be firing back. As the book continues and Lottie realizes how much labour she’s doing—and as her project gets attention and the trolls start coming out—Lottie starts having second thoughts.
What’s a Girl Gotta Do? is essentially about microaggressions (though that term is never mentioned by name) and how people who constantly call out and fight against microaggressions often experience activism burnout (this term is mentioned by name). This is why I love the Spinster Club trilogy: Bourne educates about different concepts in feminism and social justice while still telling an excellent story. Of course, the book educates different readers in different ways. Teen girls reading this with an interest in feminism might identify with Lottie or some or all of the other girls in the book. For me, watching Lottie learn as she tackles these problems, as her anger inspires her and then her constant dedication wears her out, helps me understand what women often experience, both online and offline, in a way I can’t directly access. As an older male reader, I have a lot of privilege that insulates me from the microaggressions that Lottie experiences (and I probably commit a fair number).
For that reason, the character of Will definitely resonated with me. Now, I never went so far as to declare myself an “equalitist” like Will does. I’ve always been pretty much feminist for as long as I’ve known the label. Yet I definitely understand Will’s misplaced confidence, shall we say, in rationality and calm or civil discourse. His smug, self-satisfied self-assurance that everything can be backed up with logic and facts infuriates Lottie to no end—as it should:
“I said,” he said louder, “there’s nothing wrong with being logical.”
“No, not always.” I paused. “But I don’t think you realize how upsetting it is when you feel someone’s devaluing your experience. Look how angry me, Evie and Amber get at you. Do you ever think why? Do you ever think how it must feel to have horrible things you’ve seen or experienced judged and questioned by someone? Like it’s our responsibility to convince you we’re not lying, rather than yours just to believe us?…”
I was a precociously intelligent, bookish male teen—logic and facts were my bread and butter, and I had enough privilege that I didn’t really understand, even as I was beginning to learn about feminism and gender inequity from an academic perspective, why that could be problematic. I had so much faith in rationality. So the journey that Will undergoes in this book definitely had elements that were familiar to me, even if we weren’t exactly in the same starting place. I also think it’s really clever, from a narrative point of view, for Bourne to pair Lottie with Will, both as her cameraperson and as a potential love interest.
As with the other Spinster Club books, What’s a Girl Gotta Do? is also funny. That’s another thing I love about Bourne’s writing. I like each of the three narrators of this series for different reasons, as I mentioned above, but they all have these great, distinctive voices. Bourne hasn’t written the same narrator with three different names; she has three characters with their own strengths and flaws. And while you don’t need to read the first two books to enjoy this one, if you have read the first two, you get these lovely little updates on what’s happening in Evie and Amber’s lives. Bourne has created this awesome microcosm of feminist teenagers growing up, and it’s excellent.
I’ve pondered since finishing this book which of the three is my favourite. Honestly, it’s hard to make that kind of determination. Each has its own strengths and focuses. Am I Normal Yet? is an amazing exploration of the toll that mental illness takes on one’s health and life. How Hard Can Love Be? features the effects of parents’ problems on their kids. And now What’s a Girl Gotta Do? ties together the nascent threads of feminism throughout the book to demonstrate how dismantling the patriarchy is both necessary and difficult. Really, all three of these books are essential. And I feel sorry for anyone who gives them a pass just because they’ve been labelled as young adult: sure, the protagonists are teenagers, but the education and the themes in here are really for everyone, whether you’ve just started college/sixth form or you’re a 28-year-old Canadian dude who teaches adults for a living.
My only regret is that I’m finished the series now (with the exception of the coda novella, and you can bet I’ll be devouring it soon). Fortunately, I’ve been lending each book to my friend Becky as I finish them, so at least I can look forward to hearing her opinions soon. And I have another Holly Bourne novel on my shelf waiting to be read, and and and she has two more novels coming out this year. So … yeah. I’m hooked, and so should you be.