Girlhood by Cat Clarke

Received from NetGalley for review.

3.5 stars

Girlhood turned out to be a huge surprise; I was so sure I knew what was happening and how the story would unfold, only to be proven wrong at the end. I have to admit I was expecting more mystery and darkness, although now I think about it the title gives it away – Girlhood is about just that, being a girl, dealing with growing up, and finding your place. Even though it wasn’t quite what I expected, it was compulsive and compelling reading from start to finish. It deals with the intensity of boarding schools and friendships that develop between teenagers (girls in this case), but it becomes so much more than that – the importance of friendship, good communication, grief, and seeking help when you need it.

The story opens at Duncraggan, a boarding school for girls in rural Scotland. The protagonist, Harper, has a solid group of friends – Rowan, Ama, and Lily – but is suffering after the death of her twin sister, Jenna, a few years previously. Their close-knit group is disrupted by the arrival of new girl Kirsty, who has something in common with Harper: she’s lost a sister, too. The narrative simultaneously explores Harper feelings of grief and her enjoyment of school, finally finding a group of friends she fits in with, and her confused feelings when Kirsty arrives as she feels like she suddenly has someone who understands her, even if Kirsty seems a bit strange and quiet.

In terms of plot, there isn’t really one outside of the girls – Girlhood is all about the characters and their relationships, and how being together all the time can be both intense and wonderfully rewarding. They live in each other’s pockets entirely with Rowan and Harper in one room, Ama and Lily in the one next to them, and I loved their friendship. Rowan was my ultimate favourite and if you read it I think it will become obvious why. The girl’s lives are not always sunshine and daisies, especially after Kirsty’s arrival, but they are realistic – being a teenager is hormonal and messy, people are flawed and make mistakes, and Clarke has captured that entirely. Kudos to her for a bit of diversity, as well.

I like how Girlhood showed that problems can happen to anyone and money doesn’t always equate to happiness. Every girl is wealthy but they all have their own problems, which is something I feel people often forget. Just because the characters have money doesn’t necessarily mean they have better lives; Harper and Kirsty especially deal with grief that threatens to consume them and causes them to make bad decisions. There is also an air of mystery that is not resolved until the end of the novel, which had me constantly questioning motives – what happened to Jenna? Why is Kirsty’s behaviour so bizarre at times? Who is revealing secrets?

Ultimately, this book is about five teenage girls and their experiences at a boarding school, but it touches on so much more, especially the power of grief, friendships, and forgiveness. This is definitely one to be read on a quiet day, when you can devour it in one or two sittings and get caught up in the messiness and intensity of being a teenager.

Read: April 1st-3rd 2017

3.5/5 stars

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