Rebel Girls by Elizabeth Keenan
It’s 1992, and there’s a rumor spreading in Baton Rouge…
When it comes to being social, Athena Graves is far more comfortable creating a mixtape playlist than she is talking to cute boys—or anyone, for that matter. Plus her staunchly feminist views and love of punk rock aren’t exactly mainstream at St. Ann’s, her conservative Catholic high school.
Then a malicious rumor starts spreading through the halls…a rumor that her popular, pretty, pro-life sister had an abortion over the summer. A rumor that has the power to not only hurt Helen, but possibly see her expelled.
Despite their wildly contrasting views, Athena, Helen and their friends must find a way to convince the student body and the administration that it doesn’t matter what Helen did or didn’t do…even if their riot grrrl protests result in the expulsion of their entire rebel girl gang.
Rebel Girls really appealed to me based off the time that the book takes place in. The year is 1992 and I was in high school then. There were some definite reminders that felt accurate of the time period. Others not so much. Athena is the girl I wish I was. While I thought I was feminist and had some feminist views, I wasn’t into punk yet, I obsessed too much over boys, and I very much cared what people thought of me. I wanted to fit in, not stand out. In some ways, I’m still like that. I don’t like the focus or attention on me. I am now into punk. I now love the fun hair colors. I am married, but I do have my own life, too. But I do still want people to like me. So I guess I’m a bit Athena now and still a bit high school Kristi.
As you would expect when picking up this book based off the title and synopsis, Rebel Girls is feminist. Athena is into Riot Grrrl music and zines. She especially loves Bikini Kill and often wonders what Kathleen Hanna would think of her. In case you don’t know what Riot Grrl is about, it’s very feminist. It’s all about body confidence and liking who you are. It’s not conforming. It’s about knowing who you are and being that person. It’s about feminism. It’s punk rock. Athena still struggled at times with these things. She did try to avoid bands once they became mainstream and popular. She was pro-choice and liberal in her conservative state.
The synopsis lets you know that this book focuses a lot on abortion and the choice of having one. Athena’s younger sister, Helen, was just starting her freshman year. Helen is tall and gorgeous with plans to be a model. Because of this, she is a threat to the mean girls, specifically Leah. Leah is a junior and is exactly what you think of when you hear mean girl. At least from my time as a teen. She’s beautiful, popular, and a cheerleader. She’s also majorly bitchy and fake. Leah has Athena’s best friend, Sean, wrapped around her finger. He won’t believe anything negative. But Leah and her BFF, Aimee, spread rumors about people in school. The new one is that Helen slept with Drew Lambert, the school’s most open racist, and had an abortion. Why is this a huge deal? Abortions happened in the 90’s (quite a lot in my area). But these kids go to St. Ann’s. This catholic school has a no abortion policy. If a girl gets pregnant, she either has the baby or puts the baby up for adoption. Either way, they don’t get to attend the school. The town in Louisiana is very conservative and almost every one is pro life. Including Helen. She’s the opposite of her liberal family.
Helen is a wreck. Athena and her other best friend, Melissa, decide that something needs to be done. No one does anything to Leah, the suck up. With the help of Helen’s friends, Sara and Jennifer, they become the Gang of Five. The girls start a “so what” campaign that just barely fits into the school’s standards. They hand out pins and patches and continue to find ways to get Helen’s truth out there.
During this time, Athena gets her first real boyfriend, the new guy at school. She struggles often with her Riot Grrrl ideals and wanting so much to have this boy adore her. Things seem odd at times, but she really falls for him.
I don’t want to get into anything else so that some things are a surprise. I do need to give some warnings. Obviously this book is about teenage pregnancy and abortions. The school is pro life, as are most students, but the book also focuses on pro choice a bit more. They visit a clinic and Helen has some horrible fetus photos put up at school. Girls call each other bitch and slut fairly often. This was super common in my school, but Athena does try to correct people for the use. Melissa is super carefree and rebellious. She has flings with older boys so often that Athena doesn’t even know their names. We don’t know if she’s having sex, but there is kissing between the junior girl and college boys that she meets at parties. There is bullying. There is racism. The town is mostly white and quite a few people are full on, openly racist. Athena’s best friend and neighbor, Sean, is black. It is often brought up that racism is ok. But sadly, this is still a common thing in our country. As I’m writing this, the news of the day is showing me how bad things are. There are immature boys and talk of sex and alcohol. Maybe drugs, but I can’t really remember if they were mentioned. I loved the homecoming dance with the songs popular when I was in school. But others may be uncomfortable with songs like “Me So Horny”. I grew up in a school where we had a dance competition in 8th grade to “The Humpy Dance”. Things have changed, at least in a lot of schools. But not all schools. There was also a part about fake ID’s which were a lot more common before the ID’s got harder to fake. I’m sorry if I missed anything else.
I gave this book 4 stars. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy. I loved going back to high school, even if mine was public in a blue state.
Have you read Rebel Girls? Is it on your TBR? Do you consider yourself a feminist? Do you listen to punk? Fun hair colors or tattoos?