A funny, feminist teen story about knowing when to train . . . and when to fight.
Fleur Waters never takes anything seriously – until she turns up at her local boxing club one day, just to prove a point. She’s the only girl there, and the warm-up alone is exhausting . . . but the workout gives her an escape from home and school, and when she lands her first uppercut on a punching bag she feels a rare glow of satisfaction.
So she goes back the next week, determined to improve. Fleur’s overprotective mum can’t abide the idea of her entering a boxing ring, why won’t she join her pilates class instead? Her friends don’t get it either and even her boyfriend, ‘Prince’ George, seems concerned by her growing muscles and appetite – but it’s Fleur’s body, Fleur’s life, so she digs her heels in and carries on with her training.
I was super excited for this book because, hello! Feminist story about a girl who, despite external protests, becomes a boxer? But unfortunately the execution of this premise made it a 2.5 star read for me, rounded down to 2 because I just don’t get Fleur’s humor. This book is also a revamp, as it was published last year already, so check out the cute new cover!
My main gripe with Girls Can’t Hit was the narrative and CONSTANT push of “feminism this! Feminism that!” The writing was so obvious with this theme, and I couldn’t help but feel like it was pushed on me at times. Fleur was an okay character, but her struggles and privilege weren’t really explored in a way that matched the book’s message. Also, all the British jokes went over my head. I didn’t really understand the importance of the Battle (such as the reenactments and Normans vs Saxons ideal) so I kind of skimmed over those. Not like I was missing much, though. There were comparisons between the two and biases that I didn’t understand, which ultimately didn’t matter anyway. Both were colonizers, sooo.
“I think sometimes I just get bored with doing the sensible thing and so I end up doing something idiotic just to see what happens.”
The plot is galvanized when Fleur takes up boxing as a way to get fit and basically prove her friends and family wrong. However, boxing also gives her an appetite and defined muscles that people don’t appreciate, such as her crusty white boyfriend. One of the larger conflicts is the antagonistic relationship Fleur has with a girl in her year (feminism =/= girl on girl hate??) that, in my opinion, was not resolved well. Add to the fact that even though Fleur was constantly on the defensive about her gender, and, well, you could say I wasn’t her biggest fan.
I’m not surprised that this book was written by a man, because Fleur’s narrative just didn’t FEEL right. She and her feminist girl friend were always quick to accuse while ignoring certain things. The actions just didn’t fit the message. Fleur gets saved by this dude, a love interest, and the first thing she says when he asks what she was doing in the alley area was “Why? Is it because I’m a girl?” Cue record scratch. Does the author really think that girls in high school/university talk and think like that? This happens so many times too! It completely baffles me to think that this kind of accusation isn’t called out and is appropriate for a feminist narrative. It honestly makes Fleur and her friends look very superficial and one-sided. Additionally, Fleur’s friend Blossom is written as a cardboard cut-out feminist whose only mission in life is to fight the patriarchy. “Let’s go hold up signs! Let’s go to this boxing club to protest its divisive flier!” Etc. Doesn’t she… have any other interests? Nah. Who needs that.
The love interest was completely useless to the plot and Fleur’s character growth. (Also the random fact that he was Syrian. Congrats Fleur! You have all your bases covered as a feminist. It’s not like he’s the token character or anything, he’s just way more ‘exotic’ than your crusty ex-boyfriend.) The important messages of this book are just glossed over by how superficial the characters’ actions and motives are. I love how Fleur can jab on and on about what girls can/can’t do, while calling places “a dump,” – places like her girl enemy’s house – and going off about Tarik’s (the love interest’s) beautiful, glistening “olive” skin. Intersectionality much?
“‘Fleur, you are an excellent feminist. You’ve just taken a different route than me. Or anyone else. But that’s okay. There are thousands of different ways to be a feminist. And the great thing is, you get to choose which way works for you.’”
I think there was potential to this story, but the execution just did not do it. I appreciated Fleur’s struggles in becoming a successful boxer and the awesome research she did on Women’s Boxing, but the rest of the narrative was forgettable and one-dimensional. I really feel like some of her and Blossom’s dialogue and actions should have been called out on too, which no one really does. They’re amazing because they try their hardest to fight for women’s rights and and and – and what? Remain antagonistic towards the stereotypical sport-y girl who (I believe) is a POC? Stay oblivious to their privilege? Think that every single comment is an attack on their gender? I’m not here for that kind of feminism.
Thank you Macmillan for the review copy!