I know it’s not cool to define yourself by a boy. Girls are supposed to be independent, these days. We should be Strong Female Characters, we should be tough and self-motivated and grrrrrls instead of girls. We’re supposed to run the world—girls—and look unapologetically into the camera. We don’t have to smile. We can cross our arms or curl our hands into fists. Except that while we’re being tough and independent, we really should be beautiful, too; we’re just not supposed to notice, or to care. It’s more attractive not to care if you’re attractive. That’s the idea.
What Girls Are Made Of, by Elana K. Arnold

Sixteen-year-old Nina Faye loves her boyfriend, Seth. She loves him so much that she’s careful to keep his interest by never seeming too interested, by staying ever-so-slightly remote. She loves him so much that she never asks him to put on the music she wants to hear; never asks him to turn the heat up or down in the car; never burdens him with her worries, her frustrations, her thoughts.

Even though she does everything “right,” Seth breaks up with her. And Nina is suddenly adrift.

Reading What Girls Are Made Of is an uncomfortable experience. It’s a showcase of the sort of thoughts that we like to tell ourselves aren’t A Thing, even though we all know they’re A Thing because we all have had them. It shines a spotlight on aspects of life that we Aren’t Supposed To Talk About. Thoughts and concerns and realities that are so taboo that the No Talking Rule has become so ingrained in our culture that we don’t even generally Talk About The Not Talking.

It’s honest about bodily functions, not prettied up or gauzed over, never bashful or shy.

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It’s honest about pain: psychological, emotional, physical.

It’s honest about the unreliability of adults, acknowledges that adults are just as fallible as anyone else.

And while it’s a very specific portrait of a very specific girl, it’s more a commentary on The Bigger Picture than it is a story about one person.

Like Infandous, What Girls Are Made Of uses myth and art—and vivid, sometimes devastatingly horrific imagery—to explore the experience of being female in this world, past and present. Like Infandous, it looks very closely at women's pain, and at the history of men being celebrated for making art out of that pain. Like Infandous, it looks at the long history of the “she was too beautiful for this world” mentality, and about how often it results in art that says more about the artist and the viewers than it does about the purported subject of the piece.

Like Infandous, it is harsh and beautiful, distant and immediate, furious and anguished.

Like Infandous, What Girls Are Made Of will not be for all readers. It’s a book that tells the truth about the world as-is, versus the world as we would like it to be—facing those truths about our world is uncomfortable and painful and frustrating and sad, and not all readers will want to face those truths while standing by the side of someone as prickly and removed as Nina. It’s a book that features the voice that readers seem to have the hardest time with: the Unlikable Female.

Being one myself, I’m always here for that.

In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom and The Backlist, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.