What Girls Are Made of

by Elana K. Arnold

Nina is an only child in an emotionally distant family. She’s wrapped up in... read more

Nina is an only child in an emotionally distant family. She’s wrapped up in her boyfriend, Seth, who calls the shots in their relationship in a way she doesn’t challenge, but her closest connection seems to be the animals at the shelter where she’s doing community service for a cruel stunt she pulled on Seth’s former girlfriend. Nina discovers she’s pregnant right after Seth breaks up with her. She finds herself reflecting on a trip she took with her mom to Italy two years before, when she was 14. Her mom’s passion for art history and martyred female saints, who were often tortured or objects of obsession, informed the trip’s itinerary, and now they’re informing Nina’s AP English writing project, a series of pieces that reflect on being female. At first it’s an unconscious theme; but the more she thinks about that trip, the more she sharpens her perspective. “As long as there have been women,” her mom told her, “there have been ways to punish them for being women.” Nina sees it now; in her own life, in her mother’s life, too. A bold, singular literary work features matter- of-fact treatment of sexual pleasure, sexual objectification of women, and abortion, among other topics. Its depiction of a challenging mother-daughter relationship between two singular individuals is also notable, but it’s Nina’s transformation into a thoughtful, more confident young woman that drives the narrative. (Age 14 and older)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2018

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