Review: WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF by Elana K. Arnold (2017)

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Year Release: 2020
Source: Libro.fm

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: abortion, animal death, attempted sexual assault (author’s note), vomiting

I took Elana K. Arnold’s Revision Season course last fall, so before getting into the book itself, I felt like I had an insider knowledge of its revision cycle. I got my ears into the audiobook and dove right in.

This work follows Nina Faye as she navigates her teenage years with the social pressures as they relate to autonomy and sexuality. Her mother tells her that there is no such thing as unconditional love, and Arnold explores the different modes of love during key moments of Nina’s life. It feels like the contemporary precursor to Damsel, so if you enjoyed the brutally honest way it explored its topics through fairy tale, you will enjoy this.

Works that command their prose allow the reader to become absorbed into the characters and their struggles as if they are real people. My annoyance at Seth the boyfriend and the way I wanted to shake Nina’s mother got deep under my skin. So much so that I forgot that I was listening to fiction. This book is all unlikability, flaws, and mistakes. There were elements of Nina’s experience in high school and girlfriend expectations that rung so true to me, it felt like a mirror was held up to a younger version of myself.

Like literary fiction, there isn’t much of a plot, but there is a journey we go on with Nina, told in a non-linear storyline. The reader gets a chance to piece together the ways Nina learns what she is made in almost a stream of consciousness of story-telling and recollection. It works to a disturbing degree. The repetition in the book also keep the reader engaged and remember what it is that Nina tries to do every step of the way.

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