Girls with Sharp Sticks
Publishes March 19, 2019
About GIRLS WITH SHARP STICKS
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.
GIRLS WITH SHARP STICKS is the first book by Suzanne Young that I’ve ever read, and now I’m thinking that’s a mistake. I liked her storytelling and the way she gets us inside Mena’s head so much that I really want to read more of her books. I’ve heard great things about The Program series, but I’ve just never read them.
One of the brilliant things about GIRLS WITH SHARP STICKS has to be the way that at the beginning, Mena believes the staff of the academy are looking out for her, that any negative feelings she experiences are because she’s in the wrong. As the story progresses and her understanding changes, her interactions with teachers and staff morph into something sinister and sometimes cruel. The way it’s written makes it feel like Mena’s slowly waking up, slowly realizing things aren’t right. I loved that element.
The only thing that gave me any pause at all is a line from a poem Mena finds and which gives her courage and makes her feel empowered. I loved that it makes her feel empowered and talks about girls who were once oppressed taking ownership of themselves and rising up. But the poem ends with this part about the girls then taking boys hostage and basically doing to them what men had done to them as girls. Having revenge on the next generation.
The thing that bothered me is that revenge element. First, I don’t think revenge really solves anything or is right. But more than that, when I’ve talked to people who oppose the idea of feminism, most often it’s because this is what they perceive or fear the real feminist agenda is: taking revenge on men, oppressing men in some way to make up for the way women were oppressed in the past. (I know that’s not what true feminism is.) Anyway, I guess I worried that people would read just that far in the book and think, hey, this book is advocating for something ugly and wrong, and then walk away thinking this is evidence of the dark feminist agenda creeping into teen fiction. I don’t think the series is going for a revenge-positive message, though. At least, that’s not what I got from the set-up for and hints about the next book revealed in the final chapters of GIRLS WITH SHARP STICKS.
In the context of the story, the poem is kind of foreshadowing in a sense. When Mena first reads the poem, feels like she idolizes this idea of punishing men as a gender. Through the story, though– and I don’t want to spoil anything– it seems as though there are a lot more layers still to come. Let’s say that the academy aren’t the only ones who want to use the girls for an agenda. So I’m withholding my judgment about the poem until I see where the series goes with this idea. I’m pretty intrigued, to be honest. I love when a story explores an idea through a bunch of layers, and it seems like that may be just what we get with this one
GIRLS WITH SHARP STICKS is perfect for fans of GIRL PARTS by John Cusick or UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld.
Recommended for Ages 14 up.
Two of Mena’s friends (both girls) are in a relationship.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used infrequently. Most of the swearing comes from one character, and it’s mostly f-bombs.
Mena wonders what it’s like to kiss a boy she likes. She wants to at one point. We see some tender exchanges between Marcella and Bryn, the two girls who are dating. Hand-holding, embracing, that sort of thing.
At one point, one of the girls buys a women’s magazine and they read an article in it about how to please men sexually. Most of the information remains pretty vague. They giggle and tease about whether a certain boy would like “number four” on the list and things like that. At one point, a girl makes a reference to oral sex. Another girl asks why the women’s magazine is about pleasing men instead of about women.
Some of the things the teachers or staff members say and do toward the girls become pretty creepy. They have so much power over the girls. Mena feels terrified at more than one point. Definitely a trigger warning for anyone who’s sensitive to that feeling of panicked helplessness.
Some of the staff members become increasingly rough with the girls. One altercation becomes fatal. It’s described in pretty graphic detail.
Staff members give the girls pills every night which they call vitamins. Mena quickly begins to suspect that they’re much more than that. One character poisons others with plants from the garden the girls care for.
Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links.