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BOOK REVIEW: Rules for Being a Girl by Candace Bushnell & Katie Cotugno

| 31 July 2021 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Rules for Being a Girl by Candace Bushnell & Katie Cotugno

Pan Macmillan
April 2020
Paperback, $16.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Kids & Children’s books / Personal & Social Issues / Sexuality & Relationships for Children & Teenagers

60% Rocking

Rules for Being a Girl is a timely novel, written for young adult readers, which articulates a number of unspoken rules that many young women feel forced to conform to. While this makes it admirable and it tackles some difficult subject matter, it is ultimately let down by some problems with its execution.

But there are so many unspoken rules for navigating high school—for navigating life, maybe—that I can’t help but try to figure out which one I broke to get myself into this situation. There are so many rules for girls…Be flirty but not too flirty. Be confident but not aggressive. Be funny but in a low-key, quiet way. Eat cheeseburgers, but don’t get fat. Be chill, but don’t lose control. I feel like I could keep going, like a full list would cover one of those old-fashioned scrolls from cartoons about Santa Claus.

Sex & the City author, Candace Bushnell teams up with Katie Cotugno here. The story is written in the first person from the perspective of a teenage girl named Marin. She is in her final year of high school. She has a deep admiration and crush on her English teacher, Mr Beckett—or Bex, as he is affectionately known. However, things soon spiral out of control after he kisses her.

Over the past several weeks, many of you may have heard rumors regarding allegations against a much-beloved teacher here at Bridgewater. As a community, it’s safe to say we have struggled to separate information from innuendo and reconcile our own personal experiences with other’s lived realities. It is never easy to come to terms with the idea that someone we admire—even adore, even perhaps love—may not be worthy of our continued esteem.

Over the course of this novel, Marin has a feminist awakening. She soon starts picking up on examples of casual sexism and innuendo that are prevalent at her school and in society. She also witnesses misogyny and decides to put all her thoughts together in an editorial for her school newspaper. She receives blowback for this and for also reporting her predator teacher to the authorities.

Marin is a strong and brave protagonist, who grows and learns from her mistakes. Her journey is not always an easy one but she becomes increasingly empowered to fight back with the help of some new friends. She establishes a feminist book club and grows from finding these like-minded students. The authors pick titles like Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale as the group’s reading materials. These feel like logical texts and signposts for those readers who are keen to know more about feminism.

Where this novel falls over is in respect to its characterisation. A lot of the characters are very one-dimensional. You don’t get a sense of their true motivations or what makes them tick. Granted, in the case of the following, you learn about Marin’s grandma and her fashion choices, but Marin’s fellow students all seem rather interchangeable.

For all her style and sophistication, Gram is one of the most buttoned-up people I’ve ever met: she married my grandpa when she was twenty-two then raised my mum and her brothers while working part-time as a bookkeeper for a discount mattress company and hosting Tupperware parties on the weekend. I’ve literally never seen her without lipstick; she’s been wearing the same shade of Clinique since at least the eighties.

Another issue is with the dialogue the authors give to Marin’s teacher, Bex. He is a manipulative character who charms his victim. It is understandable that he has to speak in such a way that is appealing to teenage students like Marin, but some things seem too implausible to feel real. Consider the following snippets coming out of a 30-year-old teacher’s mouth:

– Bex nods. “Honestly, Marin I’ve read a lot of admission essays, and I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true. Your writing is, like, super mature.”
– “Okay,” he says, “let’s talk homework.”
– “Anyway,” Bex continues with a twist of his lips, “we ended it for good last night. Thus”—he gestures down at himself—“the desiccated corpse you see before you today.”
– Bex’s eyes widen. “I don’t get my records at Urban fuckin’ Outfitters,” he says with a laugh, reaching out and taking the album gently from my hand.

This book is a quick and engaging read. The authors should be commended for tackling some difficult topics, and for showing how a teen victim of sexual harassment processes and deals with her experience. It certainly has some things going for it, it’s just a pity that other things let the finished product down.

I blink at him for a moment, caught up short. No adult has ever talked to me that way before. “How am I spoiled?” I ask, more baffled than offended. “You’re the one who—”
“You can play victim all you want, kiddo,” Bex interrupts. “You can act like you had nothing to do with any of this. But you and I both know the truth…
“What vibe did you think you were giving off, exactly? You wanted it, Marin. And maybe you freaked out and regretted it afterward, but I’m not going to sit around and let you make me out to be some kind of fucking sex predator when we both know you were every bit as responsible for what happened as I was. More, probably.”

Rules for Being a Girl is a novel that should kick-start some conversations for teenagers about boundaries and consent. The lead character is a good role model for readers insofar as she is complex and human. While this doesn’t always manage to plumb the great depths that it ought to, this novel is a decent and swift read about some topics that are worthy of further consideration and thought.

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Category: Book Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at:

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