Published by Simon Pulse on October 10, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Source: eARC via Edelweiss
Three misfits come together to avenge the rape of a fellow classmate and in the process trigger a change in the misogynist culture at their high school transforming the lives of everyone around them in this searing and timely story.
Who are the Nowhere Girls?
They’re everygirl. But they start with just three:
Grace Salter is the new girl in town, whose family was run out of their former community after her southern Baptist preacher mom turned into a radical liberal after falling off a horse and bumping her head.
Rosina Suarez is the queer punk girl in a conservative Mexican immigrant family, who dreams of a life playing music instead of babysitting her gaggle of cousins and waitressing at her uncle’s restaurant.
Erin Delillo is obsessed with two things: marine biology and Star Trek: The Next Generation, but they aren’t enough to distract her from her suspicion that she may in fact be an android.
When Grace learns that Lucy Moynihan, the former occupant of her new home, was run out of town for having accused the popular guys at school of gang rape, she’s incensed that Lucy never had justice. For their own personal reasons, Rosina and Erin feel equally deeply about Lucy’s tragedy, so they form an anonymous group of girls at Prescott High to resist the sexist culture at their school, which includes boycotting sex of any kind with the male students.
Told in alternating perspectives, this groundbreaking novel is an indictment of rape culture and explores with bold honesty the deepest questions about teen girls and sexuality.
Y’all, by the time you read this, I’ve been sitting on this review since June 2017. It’s been killing me to not publish this sooner. Maybe it caught me at the right time or maybe it’s just that good, but The Nowhere Girls struck me right in my feminist heart at a time I really needed it to keep going. It’s not an emotionally easy book to read, as you might expect from any book with rape and sexism at its center, but it’s a fantastic read for the modern teenage activist.
Our three narrators lend the book a weight often missing from similarly themed books through their representation of groups often neglected by mainstream feminism: fat women (Grace), queer women of color (Rosina), and disabled/neurodivergent women (Erin). After years of the school’s football players–especially one jerk named Spencer–getting away with sexual assault and harassment, what becomes a movement girls across the county know about starts with one event: Grace moving to itty bitty Prescott from Seattle. She happens to move into the home that once housed a high school pariah named Lucy.
Once, before Grace arrived, three football players raped Lucy. After the event, those three and then others harassed her and harangued her until she couldn’t take it anymore–and she wasn’t the only one to suffer at the boys’ hands. When Grace finds Lucy’s desperate words carved on the walls of her new home and learns what happened to her, she’s determined to do something. With the help of her new friend Rosina, who’s also furious about Lucy’s fate, and Erin, they start a movement simply called The Nowhere Girls. What starts with a handful of girls who get meeting info from an email inflames an entire town in scandal.
All they do is make it publicly known the boys will not be getting any sex until they start showing the girls some respect. It’s a big, grandstanding act that doesn’t actively do anything to fight the rampant sexism in town. White feminism material? Absolutely. But the boys and even the school administrators are so infuriated by the mere idea of resistance that change happens.
(Almost the exact thing happened to me in elementary school: I made it be known I’d put a note like “I feel like crying when you bully me. Will you please stop bullying me?” in my fourth grade bully’s valentine but forgot to actually do it. She was so mad at me she wrote a nasty note in the valentine she gave me, which got her a referral. Sometimes, you don’t have to do anything but talk.)
But like I said, it’s an entirely fair criticism to look at the Nowhere Girls and call what they’re doing white feminism. The book actually include short perspectives from a trans girl named Adele and an unnamed black girl who voice valid criticism of the movement. The schoolgirls who attend the Nowhere Girls meetings are overwhelmingly white and cis; they mostly sit around talking instead of doing anything.
And like I said, the mere existence of their resistance is what brings about change! It’s so odd to see such a White Feminism way of changing things do so well in regards to intersectional feminism and I love it.
But make no mistake, The Nowhere Girls is not a book for those triggered by sexism, sexual abuse/assault, and racism. See, one of our three narrators has her own history of sexual abuse in her past. We also get snippets from an MRA/pickup artist blog run by one of Lucy’s rapists and it is nasty. I was prepared and can regularly stomach the vile diatribes spotlighted on We Hunted the Mammoth, the blog excerpts are still nasty enough to choke you. They have a purpose, but you’ll still want to be prepared.
And the racism? Well, the principal quickly decides Rosina is the mastermind behind the Nowhere Girls. Though she’s partially correct, her choice of suspect comes solely from racism. Because Rosina is the Angry Latina Girl in a very white town, she most be behind it, right? She goes as far as threatening Rosina with expulsion and exposure of her grandmother’s immigration status as well as lying to Rosina’s mother about her being on drugs. Those are not the acts of a fair principal and they’re also not that surprising. Despite being a woman herself, the principal commits to complicity with the system with every move she makes against Rosina, the queer girl of color.
Sadly, I can’t remark on the quality of Erin’s character and how her Asperger’s is written. I don’t know enough Aspies to be a fair judge and don’t know if Reed has an Aspie reader for the book. Someone else who knows better will have to take on that job.
If you haven’t already figured it out, The Nowhere Girls is one dark book. Reading it is like sinking slowly into a massive hole filled with mud. Right when you’re about to go under, a hand reaches out to you and pulls you out. The crushing despair most of the book put into me lifted more and more the closer I got to the end until it felt like the world was good and just again. Is it a bit of a fantasy? Yeah, I can see that criticism and call it valid too. But for those of us who will never get justice for one reason or another, it feels good.
The one blemish on the otherwise great The Nowhere Girls: transphobia. Early on in the book, a character in Jesse says a very transphobic thing while trying to be the good brother of a trans boy. His quote: “If I decided I wanted to be a chick.”
No one DECIDES they WANT to be a different gender. Trans people are born the gender they are but get designated the wrong gender. I get the intent of the passage–it’s in the context of explaining that if he were, say, Jessie Camp instead of Jesse Camp, he would have a much harder time due to transmisogyny–but the phrasing is so, so important. Just change it to “if I were a trans girl” or something similar that doesn’t imply being trans is a choice.
Anyway, nothing is ever said about it. He turns out to be friends with one of Lucy’s rapists, but then he’s kinda redeemed when he tries to help the girls report Spencer for rape. After that, he fades into the background.
Honestly, I want to call Erin, Grace, and Rosina the Angels of Prescott, not the Nowhere Girls. Their admittedly passive activism on behalf of a girl who is far away from them puts Spencer’s victims on the road to getting justice. And we do get a peek at how Lucy is doing at the very end, by the way. That sweet touch at the end of such a dark book makes everything feel worthwhile.
For the love of God, just steel yourself and read this book if the sexual abuse/assault, racism, and sexism won’t be too much for you. I’ve gone on for a thousand words and could go on for a thousand more, but it boils down to this book is good.