Kirkus Reviews QR Code
ALL GIRLS by Emily Layden


by Emily Layden

Pub Date: Feb. 16th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-2502-7089-4
Publisher: St. Martin's

The students at an elite all-girls boarding school in Connecticut deal with the exposure of a sexual abuser on campus.

Each chapter is told from a different perspective, presenting a broad range of empathetic and undaunted portraits of Atwater students. The novel begins on the first day of school in the fall of 2015—notably prior to the #MeToo movement—with a sinister description of the northwest Connecticut setting: “This is where teenagers wrap themselves around telephone poles.” Someone has placed signs along the country roads leading to the pristine and cloistered school saying “A Rapist Works Here.” Parents are alarmed, students are curious, the administration falters. Questions of young women’s sexual agency, of power and abuse, are explored from a variety of student perspectives. Each chapter centers on a different girl, taking the reader through various grade levels, clubs, traditions, and friend groups on campus. As the year unfolds, the identity of the abuser is revealed, and it becomes clear that the school has been turning a purposeful blind eye to the scandal for decades. The reader could feel lost in the sea of characters, but chapter titles like “Orientation,” “Prom,” and “Commencement” offer clear signposts to the passage of time, helping the book feel like a novel rather than a short story collection. Diving into the unprocessed underworld of adolescence, Layden creates space for a conversation—albeit cloistered—about feminism and the unsung difficulties of surviving in a male-dominated world.

Intelligent, evocative, and empathetic.