The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed – Book Review

Blurb from Goodreads

Who are the Nowhere Girls?

They’re every girl. But they start with just three.

Grace, the preacher’s daughter who moves into the former house of a girl whose pain adorns the walls.

Bold Rosina, who dreams of a life of playing music instead of waitressing her uncle’s restaurant.

And misunderstood Erin, the girl who finds more solace in science and order than she does in people.

They are brought together by the idea of changing the narrative of Lucy Moynihan, the girl behind the graffiti in Grace’s bedroom. When Grace learns that Lucy was run out of town for accusing the popular guys at school of gang rape, she’s incensed that she never got justice. Together, Grace, Erin and Rosina form the Nowhere Girls, and decide to avenge the rape of a girl none of them knew.

My Review

Graffiti started showing up on her locker, the strangest of which was “Slut” and “Whore,” since she was, and is, still very much a virgin. That’s just what you call girls when you want to shame them”

This was a spur of the moment buddy read with my friend Gabby back in April 2018 when she sent me a link to read this for free on Riveted (it was free to read during that month) and I liked the blurb, she liked the blurb and god knows she and I like to talk our butts off about feminism (in books and in the world at large) so we read this together and discussed it every step of the way so really I should just screenshot our messages instead of trying to write a review…

Anyway.

I’m super conflicted.

Because I love this book. I do.

The feminist message is fabulous. It really tries to have as all an encompassing, intersectional feminist message as it can. There are characters from different racial backgrounds, class, different sexual preferences, it’s LGBTQIA+, different ethnicities, there’s a character with autism, different religious beliefs…

So that’s brilliant. It’s incredibly diverse and inclusive when it comes to the female characters. FANTASTIC!!!!!!!!!

But yet I feel kinda weird about the representation of the male characters. I do feel as if you could come away from this book thinking that all men are bastards and have zero respect for women and just want us to stay in the kitchen and fulfil their sexual needs. Just a little more light and shade with some of the teenage boys please.

And then there are the adult figures in the book…

Oooof what a mess…. And I’m wondering is my version of reality so far removed from where this is set in the USA that I found the actions of the principal in particular to be almost pantomime villain-esque???

I could buy the prejudiced, corrupted cop but anything to do with the school and the actions taken against The Nowhere Girls movement just did not make sense to me.

Yes The Nowhere Girls named and shamed the boys that raped Lucy in their first email where legally they probably shouldn’t but the reactions seemed insanely over the top to me.

  • A ban on girls congregating together on school grounds???
  • The use of the word Hate Group???
  • The fact that local media picked up on the story and couched it against the teenagers without someone else, another media outlet, talking about the story and the men’s blog????
  • No one from the school bringing in people to talk about relationships between the girls and boys?
  • No one to come in and talk about freedom of expression but in a way that doesn’t slander others?
  • No one to come in and talk about their sexual activity???

See. It was just so heightened. So amped up that it became too fantastical to me. If you told me it was a dystopian novel then I would have readily bought it.

But it’s contemporary set and just…. I guess it’s a million miles away from the school system that I was educated in. My school system wouldn’t have engaged with the media for something like this. There would have been talks in class. Girls wouldn’t have been targeted as terrorists like these were. The school authorities wouldn’t have backed their methods per se but by heck they would have explored the cause and the reasons.

“The thing is,” Rosina says, “people don’t want to hear something that’ll make their lives more difficult, even if it’s the truth. People hate having to change the way they see things. So instead of admitting the world is ugly, they shit on the messenger for telling them about it.”

But that’s the thing with books. They aren’t about our personal experience so maybe I’m being unduly harsh. Like the quote says maybe the world is uglier than I think???? I don’t know… Just a little more subtlety perhaps.

Let’s get on to the good points.

This really does explain rape culture.

Like it’s brilliant at it.

There are so many fabulous parts of this book that will make you punch the air and go YES!!! You will know instinctively what the girls are talking about. You will understand how they feel. You will be sickened and disgusted by the blog posts that you will read in this book from the male misogynist’s viewpoint… Misogynist is too nice a word. Those blog posts pretty much encourage rape and are designed to chill the reader to their bones so be aware. This book is VERY triggering for anyone who has been affected by any sort of behaviour relating to sexual assault and rape.

There’s a description of a rape…

And it’s not hugely graphic but my god did it make me cry. I felt the pain of that girl leap from the pages. It was utterly destroying to me to read… But also utterly necessary to be read about.

There’s also a description of another sexual assault that chilled me to my core…

In fact there are many descriptions.

Some so brief and justified by the victim as saying well I didn’t vocalise the word no so it wasn’t assault. It wasn’t rape…

I cry. I hate that that is a woman’s default reaction because society has trained us to be such.

And I think these passages throughout the book are vital to read about. Vital to us to understand that consent is more than a person vocalising the word no.

It’s about respect between two (or more) people, it’s about asking, it’s about not expecting, not demanding, it’s about reading body language…

Sex needs to be both the physical act but also a conversation. And this might not be a conversation of words.

But it’s a conversation of looking at your partner’s eyes, a conversation of reading how their body is reacting, it’s about pausing for two seconds to ask are you okay?

It’s just more than listening to your own body’s needs and desires.

It’s being aware that how sex at that minute is for you might not be the same for your partner and about making sure you are both on the same page.

It’s open and frank discussion between men and women.

It’s teaching teenagers (and adults who didn’t get that sex ed in school) that it’s okay to say no and it’s also okay to say yes.

So I loved this book for how it looked at sex from that standpoint. There were so many different voices and opinions in this book that it gives great pause for thought and forces the reader to think about how they feel about sex. And what they understand about consent and it really exposes some of our deepest prejudices too. Amber is the character that I probably loved the most. Her storyline is in many respects deeply unfulfilling but her honesty and how she is treated will break your heart.

“Amber knows she must make a decision. To fight or not to fight. She is so tired. She thinks today was not a good day to try to not be herself. She thinks, It doesn’t count as rape if I give up. She thinks, Different rules apply to different girls. Someone like me doesn’t get to say no.”

Amber is the girl truly slut shamed by society and… I can’t cos spoilers but I cry for her so much. But I’m just not happy with her complete lack of character growth and how she was basically shat upon by the storyline by indulging a bunch of harmful tropes in the climax of her story arc.

A few more things I want to say. I’ve seen in many reviews people feel disappointed by a particular passage

I’m sure it’d be way different if it was the other way around, Jesse says. If I decided I wanted to be a chick? No way my parents would change churches to support me and call me by my new name. My dad would kick my ass if I wanted to be a girl. It took a little time, but now he’s totally cool with having another son. Like how girls can wear pants, but dudes wouldn’t be caught dead in a dress? Total double standard, you know? Not that I want to wear a dress or anything.

Lots of reviews have focused on that word “wanted” ….If I decided I wanted to be a chick and believe that it’s insensitive to trans because being transgender isn’t a want it’s just who you are. Reviewers are saying that Grace should have corrected him saying expressly that. And I have to defer to trans people’s opinions on this.

What I will say is that I didn’t pick up on it until I read other people’s reviews. I just took what Jesse meant about the double standard. This was my initial interpretation of that paragraph and maybe I’m way off base but I just thought I’d throw in my two cents: You are transgender, there’s no choosing to be, you just are. And it must be super hard realising all that and having to tell people. So as a teen trans person you have a desire to ‘want’ to live as the person you feel you are inside, the person you truly know yourself to be. To me the wanting is because Jesse’s brother had a desire to live his true life and I think maybe that’s what Jesse meant. Because the thing here is that both siblings are underage right? So they have to live under their parents house, their rules. So they may want something but need their parents’ permission and acceptance to do as such???

I could be very wrong. Because I know very little about what it must feel to be trans as it is not my lived experience. So I’m not saying that the sentence doesn’t cause hurt but maybe this is what was meant by it?

However, because it is ambiguous and because so many of us, myself included, don’t know enough about being transgender then I do believe it was a questionable use of the word ‘wanted’. And just because you don’t intend to cause hurt or offence with your word choice as an author doesn’t mean that the hurt and offence didn’t happen. So ultimately it was a bad choice of words to use and I am glad that a lot of reviews have flagged it up because it gets us all thinking and talking.

There was also a choice of wording that both myself and Gabby both didn’t like in the book when the word “blackmail” was used as a flippant remark when one girl was coming forward to the police about an incident of sexual assault.

“Hey! You will never believe this! I convinced Lisa to talk to the cops about being on Spencer’s list.” “Really?” Oh my God.” “She says she thinks she can convince Abby to do it too,” Melissa says. “It just takes one person to be brave. Then others will follow her lead.” “Yeah, well, I think Lisa’s thinking more like blackmail. But whatever, that’s between the two of them.”

People already have a negative viewpoint of women coming forward to report incidents of sexual assault and rape so if we could not maybe perpetuate that idea that women are only after money etc by flippantly throwing in a tasteless joke about blackmail being the only reason this particular character in the book would go to the police then that would be great. Thanks.

Lastly the ending…

SPOILERS GUYS!!!!

To me it felt rushed. It felt almost convenient. Too neat too tidy. This book was a very slow developer and to have it suddenly end like that didn’t work for me.

I didn’t love the introduction of Cheyenne as a character. Because this book had a whole host of voices throughout I guess I thought the story would climax around one of them. And I guess it did in a way…

Yeah I’m a mess. I don’t know what I’m saying except it felt rushed and under-developed which just really unfavourably contrasted with the slow build up.

And that whole scene in the police station was utterly farcical. It was almost like it wanted to be a triumphant court case victory??? I don’t know… It just felt like the author wanted these rapists to get their comeuppance in a ridiculously over the top fashion so that when we had that final chapter from Lucy’s PoV and she made reference to how frequently rapists get away that statement from her lost its impact because of the circus at the police station.

END OF SPOILERS!!!!

Over all I did like this book even if I also found it to be problematic . I had an enjoyable time reading and discussing it with Gabby so if anyone is wondering what to buddy read with a friend then definitely think about reading this book. There’s a lot of great stuff going on and it’s certainly a book I would recommend. However, to me it just could have been executed with a little more subtlety regarding both the male characters and the authority characters. And maybe then it would have been a higher rated book from me.

This is a line that Gabby said to me about the book: You shouldn’t come out of a book thinking that you hate all men/distrust them all and that feminism is selective and ultimately that’s how I’m feeling. I’m feeling disappointed in this book because of its masses of potential but instead it chose to create needless drama instead of sticking closer to harsh realities.

I should rate this two stars.
It deserves it
But it did try hard to be inclusive and to spread a positive message so I’m torn.

Somewhere between two and three stars.

4 thoughts on “The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed – Book Review

  1. I’m glad that there was still decent parts about this one. It’s hard when a book with a good message seems too wild. P.S. I also dislike convenient endings!

    Liked by 1 person

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