Title: Girls with Sharp Sticks
Author: Suzanne Young
Genre: YA Contemporary
Publication Date: March 19, 2019
The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardians, the all-girl boarding school offers an array of studies and activities, from “Growing a Beautiful and Prosperous Garden” to “Art Appreciation” and “Interior Design.” The girls learn to be the best society has to offer. Absent is the difficult math coursework, or the unnecessary sciences or current events. They are obedient young ladies, free from arrogance or defiance. Until Mena starts to realize that their carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears.
As Mena and her friends begin to uncover the dark secrets of what’s actually happening there—and who they really are—the girls of Innovations will find out what they are truly capable of. Because some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns.
Note: I was personally caught off guard with how heavy/blatant some of the topics were addressed. Please make sure that you are in a good head space when and if you read this. Practice self-care during and after.
P.S. if you need someone to discuss this book at any point, I’m here.
Content warnings: emotional abuse, sexual harassment, victim blaming, heteronormativity, misogyny, rape culture, domestic abuse, murder
Girls with Sharp Sticks is many things. It is a dystopian that almost feels contemporary. It is grounded in reality so much so that you see this future being possible. It is a call to action as much as a commentary. It is simple and complex.
Mena is a student at Innovations Academy, an all-girls boarding school that teaches “Art Appreciation” and “Interior Design.” They are taught to be obedient, lovely, and pleasant young women. In order to keep them that way, the Academy’s curriculum limits their interaction with the outside word.
I enjoyed Girls with Sharp Sticks more than I expected. I’ve heard about her other series– The Program— but have abstained from reading it due to criticisms about how it handles mental illness. While this new series of hers is not without fault, there are some things does well. I hope that the sequel builds on those good points and addresses its faults.
Initially, the girls seemed interchangeable. They all acted and spoke fairly the same. However, as the story progressed, they developed unique personalities. While it initially annoyed me, I found it a strategic choice to make as it shows the development of these characters as they discover themselves. Sydney and Valerie are two of my favorite characters!
I spent 80% of the book holding down my temper because the treatment against female characters is a microcosm of the injustices and violence against women in our world today. I felt so angry on behalf of these characters, if for no other reason, than because it reminded me of everything currently going on in our world. Young highlighted this by making the misogony blatantly obvious to the reader; the characters, however, were raised to think of it as the norm. They bared with it, even when their gut told them this behavior towards them wasn’t appropriate. While I read this book prior to the rise of anti-abortion bills in Mid-May, I find this book to be incredibly poignant and timely.
My reservations on this book lie in the female bashing and victim blaming that weren’t fully confronted. This may have been because of how revelations towards the end did not afford many opportunities to reflect on female friendships. How we treat our fellow women is a part of the discussion that is often overlooked but I think is still critical to address in a book such as this. I hope that the sequel will provide commentary on these two topics.
Even as she tackles these serious issues, Young still finds it possible to incorporate some plot twists that I did not see coming. The ending completely changes the situation that Mena finds herself in and has me hooked. I look forward to reading Girls with Razor Hearts next year!