I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Girls with Sharp Sticks (Girls with Sharp Sticks, #1) by Suzanne Young
Also by this author: Hotel Ruby
Published by Simon Pulse on March 19, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 400 •Format: E-ARC •Source: NetGalley
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.
Thank you so much to Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review!
I’ve only read one book by Suzanne Young and it wasn’t my favorite, and I somehow completely missed the hype train for her successful The Program series. Couples with the fact that I’m not a huge dystopian fan, I didn’t think much of Girls with Sharp Sticks when I first came across it on Goodreads. However, I started seeing more and more of my trusted blogger and reviewer friends post about how intensely good the story was and it peaked my interest. I found myself clicking the “request” button on NetGalley and was not disappointed- Girls with Sharp Sticks is a clever and compelling read that will simultaneously make you angry and horrified at the sexist and oppressive potential our world has to offer.
It’s hard to adequately review Girls with Sharp Sticks without spoilers, but the basic outline of the plot is that beautiful female students are sequestered away in a mountaintop boarding school where they learn how to be “perfect”- a twisted finishing school that has a very Stepford Wives vibe to it. Slowly but surely throughout the course of the novel, the girls begin to “wake up” and realize the disturbing foundations of their education and must decide how to deal with their situation. It’s powerful and feminist, and though it may *seem* exaggerated, what’s scariest about this story is that it’s not that far off from the truth- the girls may have exacerbated behaviors from their education, but their fears, stigmas, and societal responses are all ones that I bet many girls and women find themselves participating in, whether consciously or unconsciously (apologizing when it’s not necessary, trying to diffuse a situation with politeness and good manners for fear of a violent outburst from a man, etc.) It’s fascinating being inside the main character, Philomena’s, head because readers truly see how deeply rooted some of the power imbalances and societal stereotypes between men and women are, and how someone who is so intelligent can also be manipulated. I think this day in age many women have a place of privilege where they can say “I would never put up with that sort of sexist behavior” or “I would never tolerate that kind of abuse” because they are surrounded by strong, supportive communities, which is a wonderful thing! However, I think Girls with Sharp Sticks does an amazing job at showing that even the most seemingly privileged, beautiful, intelligent, etc. people can be manipulated, emotionally abused, oppressed and not seem it from the outside, and society is set up to have us look the other way or explain it away.
Girls with Sharp Sticks is unique in that I have found it hard to pin down into one genre. It’s set in the modern world which makes me lean toward “contemporary,” however there are definitely some science fiction elements with the technology, and thriller elements with the pacing and reveals. Yet one of the most uncomfortable elements about the story is how delicately it straddles the line between fiction and sci-fi: while some of the technology might be far-fetched, the ideals and beliefs that have let to the creation of Innovations Academy are certainly not. The story was a slow burn but in a necessary way, that slowly built up the foundation of the schools, its teachings, its methods, and they’ve cultivated a culture of fear masquerading as obedience. While a little slow to start, I’m so glad the author spent the time building the momentum of the story and taking readers along on Philomena’s journey to break through years of manipulation and, for lack of a better term, brainwashing.
Overview: A Handmaid’s Tale for a younger generation, Girls with Sharp Sticks is intricately plotted, cleverly written, and examines how society isn’t that far off from certain sexist, horrifying outcomes if we’re not active and vigilant against misogyny and oppression.