First published in Volume One: Issue Four
Like other Girls is an important book. And it’s an honest book. In short it’s a book that every Irish girl needs to read.
It tells the story of bisexual teen Lauren, who finds herself up against a wall when she discovers she’s pregnant and definitely does not want to be. Not many novels so obviously beg to be read in one sitting but Like Other Girls does. Lauren does.
Lauren is a character who grabs the front of your shirt and insists that you listen to what she has to say. Her story is strong and bold and a little bit confused – but then so is she. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a teenager who felt so realistic. Because despite how intelligent she clearly is and how eager to learn, Lauren doesn’t have all of the answers. She asks the reader a lot of questions throughout the story and questions herself a lot. She then – in a way that felt so familiar to me- proceeds to assume that she knows everything about everyone else’s problems. Lauren is real to a fault. And that’s what makes her story so powerful. It could be the story of any Irish teenager. Of any girl who finds herself in a crisis pregnancy and has to figure out what she is going to do.
One of the most refreshing aspects of Like Other Girls is that although Lauren’s abortion is the centre-point of the story – it’s not the ‘whole point’ of the story. Hennessy manages to examine her relationship with her parents, with alcohol, with discovering that her best friend is trans also while having Lauren’s abortion happen on the side. And that’s what is so chilling. Lauren’s abortion is a secret that she carries with her and the weight gets heavier and heavier as the story progresses.
“It could be the story of any Irish teenager. Of any girl who finds herself in a crisis pregnancy and has to figure out what she is going to do.”
It’s so easy to identify with Lauren in these moments. It’s so easy to wonder – as Lauren does – how many other girls have gone through this – this secrecy, the fear and forced shame? I imagine it would have been simpler to write a story where Lauren ‘learns a lesson’ from her abortion – or write a story where she wishes she hadn’t done so. But instead we get a much more empowered narrative. Any problems Lauren has aren’t caused by her decision to terminate her pregnancy – they’re merely heightened because of the secrecy and fear she endures and she begins to overcome them by telling her story. By talking about her abortion.
Lauren isn’t a perfect character, she has flaws that can be uncomfortable to read but for my money that’s what makes her realistic. It’s in her earnest anger that I identified with her the most and in her brilliant pop culture references that I wanted to be her friend (there are very few people out there who share equal love for Hamilton and Darrell Rivers but I am one of them).
Like Other Girls is a book that I wouldn’t be surprised to see on a mandatory reading list for Irish students in the future. It’s a book that simultaneously captures the gravity of what teenagers have to deal with on a day to day basis while also focussing on the ‘lighter aspects’ that are equally important – like getting a part in the school musical. And I don’t know about the rest of you – but that was so me growing up.
That’s why the only regret I felt on reading Like Other Girls is that I wished I could have met Lauren sooner. She feels like someone who could have been my friend. She feels like someone I know. She feels like me. And that’s why her story is so important.
– Reviewed by Méabh McDonnell