Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done Book Poster Image
Inspiring true story of teen coders' video game success.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

There's lots to learn in Girl Code from the simple (how to buy a domain name for a website) to the complex (creating a mobile app). A long section illustrated with screenshots and actual pieces of code explains how Andy and Sophie took Tampon Run from an idea to a finished video game. A Coding Appendix at the end of the book shows readers how to code their own "Hello World" program, debug a story program, ask for input, and write a program that allows the computer to make decisions about what a user should do given a set of user input.

Positive Messages

Girls can be whatever and whoever they want to be.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sophie and Andy are very honest in the book about their own personal challenges. Sophie is shy, terrified of speaking in public or even putting up her hand in class. Andy feels pressured by her parents (and, she admits, herself) to choose a career path that will lead to a lucrative job after college. As the story unfolds, they do a lot of serious self-evaluation and each girl becomes increasingly more confident and empowered as they begin making choices for their future.

Violence
Sex
Language
Consumerism

Passing references to video games (Super Mario Brothers), websites (Vimeo, Match.com, Tinder, Facebook, Twitter), and movies (Mulan). Andy recommends Homer's The Odyssey to readers.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Girl Code is the true story of New York City high school students Andrea "Andy" Gonzales and Sophie Houser, who find themselves paired up at a summer program that uses coding as a way to empower girls. Andy and Sophie decide their final project for the program will take on one of the world's most pervasive taboos: menstruation. The video game they create, Tampon Run, will go viral almost immediately, altering forever how they see themselves and their futures. Andy and Sophie do go into great detail about their coding projects, but everything is presented in such an upbeat, accessible, and friendly way that even the most tech-challenged reader won't be intimidated. While coding is a central theme in the book, the story is just as much about two enormously likable and relatable 16-year-old girls finding their own voices, speaking out, and learning firsthand how to create change.

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What's the story?

In GIRL CODE, shy Sophie from New York's Upper West Side and Andy, from a conservative Filipino family in the Bronx, meet at a summer coding program. While Sophie has never coded, Andy is already a coder and a lover of video games. It's an intensive seven weeks that takes the girls in the program from learning simple coding language to fun projects such as building slot machines (one with an Elvis theme). Andy and Sophie team up for a final project and decide to take on a most unexpected theme -- menstruation. Why, the girls ask themselves, is blood acceptable to talk about in the context of guns and violence but a shameful secret when it comes to a girl's period? They create a retro-themed video game called Tampon Run, in which participants shoot tampons not guns at their enemies. The game goes viral, and Sophie and Andy soon find themselves giving interviews to media around the world and being invited to major tech events. Happily, none of this attention goes to their heads, and the girls use what they're seeing and learning to help them make solid choices about their college majors and what will come after.

Is it any good?

Both aspiring coders and teens with non-tech dreams will be inspired by the smart, engaging, and funny story behind the creation of a most unlikely video game. As the story is told in alternating chapters by Andy and Sophie, readers can see how each of them grow not only as coders but as young women trying to forge their own identities. Sophie goes from not being able to speak up in class to giving speeches in front of large audiences -- and being really good at it. Andy goes from fearing what her parents will think of her decisions to embracing a future that's right for her. 

For girls interested in a career in technology, Girl Code offers a realistic (but still encouraging) look at the challenges they could face in a field that's still male-dominated.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Andy and Sophie found strong identities beyond "student" and "daughter" in Girl Code. What identity do you have (or want to have) outside of your school and family?

  • How do you think women and girls are portrayed in video games? Do you agree with Andy that it's about how they look and not who they are as people?

  • Do you think Sophie and Andy are exceptional, or can anyone with passion and commitment achieve their dreams?

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For kids who love math, science, and coding

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