Author: Cat Clarke
Published by: Quercus
Publication date: 4th May 2017
Pages: 342, paperback
Genre: YA, contemporary
Harper has tried to forget the past and fit in at expensive boarding school Duncraggan Academy. Her new group of friends are tight; the kind of girls who Harper knows have her back. But Harper can’t escape the guilt of her twin sister’s Jenna’s death, and her own part in it – and she knows noone else will ever really understand.
But new girl Kirsty seems to get Harper in ways she never expected. She has lost a sister too. Harper finally feels secure. She finally feels…loved. As if she can grow beyond the person she was when Jenna died.
Then Kirsty’s behaviour becomes more erratic. Why is her life a perfect mirror of Harper’s? And why is she so obsessed with Harper’s lost sister? Soon, Harper’s closeness with Kirsty begins to threaten her other relationships, and her own sense of identity.
How can Harper get back to the person she wants to be, and to the girls who mean the most to her?
A darkly compulsive story about love, death, and growing up under the shadow of grief.
I’ve had a copy of Girlhood since YALC in the summer of 2017, and it intrigued me from the first time I heard about it. I haven’t read any Cat Clarke in a while, but a couple of years ago I made my way through the rest of her books, and I really enjoyed all of them, so I couldn’t wait to read this one! I raced through this book, and it is definitely one of the best YA contemporaries I have read in a while (I think it’s also important to point out, for those of you who are unaware, that this book does talk about eating disorders throughout the story, so that is something to bear in mind if that is a sensitive topic for you).
Books about female friendships are an immediate yes from me, and the friendship between Harper and her friends is so genuine and natural, it was a pleasure to read. Rowan, Lily, Harper and Ama all had such unique characters, but they all complimented each other really well, and it felt as if I were looking in on a real friendship when reading their interactions. I did at times feel as if Harper’s characterisation was not quite as strong as the others’, and I think that may be because she was shaped more by the events in the book, and therefore there was less development of her personality (in my opinion, anyway). However, I still thought she was an excellent character and I really empathised with her throughout the book; also, Harper is bisexual, her best friend, Rowan, is a lesbian, and I was very pleased that this book had this representation!
I thought the back story was very well executed – Harper’s past is very complex, and touches on very sensitive topics, and I think Cat Clarke handled it in a very measured and realistic way. It didn’t feel as if she included it to dramatise the story; it really was interwoven into the story, which I think is very important if you are going to write about stigmatized subjects.
It terms of the wider plot, it was very well paced and suspenseful, and I thought the teen-drama elements (friendship problems and fallings-out) went well with the heavier aspects of the plot. There was always something interesting going on, even if it was just Harper and Rowan having an argument, and a boarding school was definitely the perfect setting for this! There was enough mystery and drama to keep me on my toes, and I thought it unfolded really nicely to give a very satisfying ending.
For those of you who are looking for a contemporary read, with friendship or suspense or both, this book is perfect! I have fallen back in love with Cat Clarke’s writing, and am now itching to reread some of her older books; those of you who have not read this book yet, I would really recommend you do, and if you have read it, let me know what you thought!