Book Review: Like Other Girls by Claire Hennessy

Like Other Girls by Claire Hennessy
Release Date: 25th May 2017
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Pages: 288
Genre: Young Adult
Buy: Paperback  Kindle

Here's what Lauren knows: she's not like other girls. She also knows it's problematic to say that - what's wrong with girls? She's even fancied some in the past. But if you were stuck in St Agnes, her posh all-girls school, you'd feel like that too. Here everyone's expected to be Perfect Young Ladies, it's even a song in the painfully awful musical they're putting on this year. And obviously said musical is directed by Lauren's arch nemesis.

Under it all though, Lauren's heart is bruised. Her boyfriend thinks she's crazy and her best friend has issues of her own... so when Lauren realises she's facing every teenage girl's worst nightmare, she has nowhere to turn. Maybe she should just give in to everything. Be like other girls. That's all so much easier ... right?

I feel as though I should apologise in advance for any spoilers that may accidently slip out once I get going with discussing this book. There is just so much I want to say & certain topics I can’t really discuss unless I give at least a tiny hint as to what happens in the book, so if you’re worried about spoilers probably best to hit that little X in the top right hand of your screen round about now.

Sixteen year old Lauren is struggling to find her place in the world. Already feeling supressed and isolated at the posh all-girls school she attends, things have taken a turn for the worse now that her own mother has become the head teacher of St Agnes, complicating their fragile relationship further.
Something happened between her best friend, Steph over the summer and the pair aren’t even talking. Which is a shame because Lauren desperately needs someone to dissect her relationship with sex obsessed boyfriend Justin. Does he even care about her or is he more concerned with her lady parts? Then there’s the fact that Lauren also quite likes girls – is she just playing at being straight?
Lauren then develops a fondness for drinking as a way to deal with all of the turmoil in her life – and as if that isn’t enough she then discovers that she is pregnant.
This is more of a disaster than you might anticipate because Lauren lives in Ireland (and although ‘they make excellent whiskey’ they also have a near-total ban on abortion) Now separated from Justin, Lauren feels as though she has no one to turn to and no one to trust. So she does what any terrified sixteen year old would do in her situation and ends up dealing with the situation by herself, with no help, support and reassurance from anyone.
But can she really do this alone? Can she end up taking back control of her life? Can she fight for what she believes in & reconcile with those closest to her?

 Or is she destined to just end up ‘like other girls’…?

Like Other Girls deals with SO many issues, themes & topics that I feel as though my head is about to explode as I try to coherently put them all into words. It is such a powerful YA book & I honestly don’t know where to start with discussing some of the issues that it raises (And, in fact, just how much of a good job it does with raising them)
Unplanned pregnancy, sexuality. gender identity, alcoholism, social expectations, peer pressure, and the complexities of relationships are just some of the topics touched upon in this 280 page YA explosion.

I can see why some readers wouldn’t take to Lauren or would at least take a while to warm to her, but I would beg to differ. I thought Lauren was an absolutely amazing character. Moody, opinionated, brash, stroppy – yes she was all of those things. But she was also lonely, confused and extremely fragile. She was angry at the world and I think this made her form some unfair judgements and make some questionable decisions – but who didn’t do that as a teenager? The things that Lauren went through would be enough to test even the most level-headed of people and we mustn’t forget that all this was happening to a mere sixteen year old girl. She herself is the first to admit that she is ‘Not a perfect young lady.’
Not only is she confused about her own sexuality, but she is also looking on as her best friend, Steph, begins transitioning and wants to be known as Evan. Throw in the fact that her boyfriend is an absolute idiot and she is facing stacks of stresses both at school and in her home life. I think that the way in which Lauren behaves is a realistic, honest and pretty accurate portrayal of how a sixteen year old girl would deal with all of the chaos and difficulty that’s going on in her life.

The story really reached another level for me when Lauren found out she was expecting. I’m appalled to admit that I knew very little about the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland (which is basically a constitutional ban on abortion in the country) However, reading this book has made me awfully aware of the situation and the first thing I did after reading it was go and research the topic. I can’t believe that I was so ignorant as to the current situation and I am sure that this novel will educate other readers too, along with raising awareness at the current Irish abortion laws. A country where teenagers can get hormones to change their sex but not to stop a pregnancy.
My heart broke for Lauren and all that she went through – especially as she did it all on her own. I was desperately shouting out to her to tell someone – ANYONE!!! For some reason she was almost expecting her friends and family to guess the situation that she was in and I couldn’t understand why she would think that. They’re not psychic Lauren! ARGH!
When Lauren uttered the words “How do I even know what I’m really angry about when everything hurts? Is it always going to be like this – never being quite sure whether it’s ok to be annoyed or whether you really are just, well, a crazy girl?” a mere 22 pages in I immediately knew where she was coming from . Hasn’t every teenage girl felt like that at some point? If I could put a copy of this book into every teenage girls reading pile then I would. Not just because it’s a cracking read, but also because it will undoubtedly do that all important thing of saying ‘it’s ok.’ It’s ok to mess up, it’s ok to say the wrong thing, it’s ok to not quite know who you are, and it’s ok to want to fight the system.
The way in which Lauren put her experiences to good use (you will discover in what way…) was really admirable. As far as I was concerned I was experiencing Lauren’s journey alongside her…I was angry for her, scared for her, upset for her – but would I ever find myself being happy for her? I desperately, desperately hoped so.

I really do applaud Claire Hennessy at producing such a powerful, emotional yet highly intelligent novel. It also contains one of the best words I’ve ever heard (‘lesbionic’)
She deals with some highly tricky topics in such a sensitive and realistic way, portraying how such issues affect normal women’s lives.
Like Other Girls should be required reading for young adults everywhere – and I can really give this book no higher praise than that.

Gripping, gritty, shocking and absolutely un-put-down-able, I now fully intend on working my way through all of Claire Hennessy’s books, because if they’re half as good as this then I’ll be one happy reader…

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