Rules for Being a Girl

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
Rules for Being a Girl Book Poster Image
Teen finds her voice after sexual assault in moving tale.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Realistic look at what girls who've been sexually assaulted go through, including the way some adult perpetrators groom their young victims, how school administrators often look the other way or blame the girl. Many scenes take place in an AP English class and at a feminist book club, with several books and authors mentioned: Roxane Gay, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Catch-22, As I Lay Dying, The Handmaid's Tale, A Room of One's Own, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, and Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference. Characters discuss feminism, equal pay, racism, sexism, ableism, intersectionality.

Positive Messages

Doing the right thing can be hard, but it's always worthwhile. Don't be afraid to challenge your long-held views. Speaking out gives others courage to do so too. Get outside your bubble and make different types of friends. Don't judge people based on gossip; get to know them. You don't have to fight all your battles alone. Surround yourself with people who have your back.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Marin's a strong, smart teen who matures a lot over course of story. Her parents and sister are supportive, loving. Gray is open-minded, feminist, and understanding. Ms. Klein is a safe harbor and mentor to Marin. One character has lesbian parents, and a friend of Marin's is gay. All the main characters are White, and the school's student body is largely White. 

Violence

A teacher lures a student to his apartment and kisses her against her will. Students bully a sexual assault victim. Some pushing and arm grabbing. Character gets hurt during a sporting event. Teen falls into pond during a verbal altercation. Teens laugh about a boy who takes photos up girls' skirts. Teens slut-shame a few students at school.

Sex

Characters kiss and make out, but it isn't described in detail. Teen boys get consent before kissing or touching girls. Some sexual jokes between friends. Dating and crushes figure in the plot. Story has descriptions of characters' hotness and desirability.

Language

Some strong language but not frequent, including "f--k," "s--t," "slut," "hell," "douche bag," "ass," "a--hole," "goddamnit," "d--k," and "balls." "God," "Jesus," and "Jesus Christ" used as exclamations.

Consumerism

Lots of brands mentioned: YouTube, Reddit, Instagram, Facebook, Spotify, Snapchat, Netflix, iPhone, MacBook, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, Diet Coke, Oreos, McDonald's, Starbucks, Urban Outfitters, HomeGoods, Applebee's, CVS, Starburst, Dunkin' Donuts, ChapStick, Coors, Cheez-Its, Tide PODS, Uber, Jeep, Subaru, and Toyota.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink beer and alcoholic punch at two parties, and a few characters get drunk. Teen is a designated driver.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Rules for Being a Girl, by Candace Bushnell (The Carrie Diaries) and Katie Cotugno, deals with the aftermath of a teen's sexual assault at the hands of a popular teacher. When Marin's favorite teacher lures her to his apartment and kisses her against her will, the incident upends her senior year of high school and spurs her to start looking at the world in a new way. She starts speaking out more, standing up for herself, and forms a feminist book club at school. Unfortunately, her best friend and boyfriend don't like this new Marin and turn their backs on her, as do most of the other kids at her school. The teacher starts treating her differently, using his position to hurt her. The story provides good discussion points about teacher-student relationships, power dynamics, how predators groom their victims, bullying, feminism, and believing victims. There's some infrequent strong language ("f--k," "s--t," "God"), a little kissing and mild making out, and a few incidents of teen drinking.

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What's the story?

In RULES FOR BEING A GIRL, Marin has it all going for her during her senior year: She's a top student, she's co-editor of the school newspaper with her best friend, and she has a popular boyfriend. She has a great relationship with Bex, her favorite teacher, mentor, and newspaper adviser. Her admission to Brown, her dream school, is looking to be in the cards, too. All these perfect pieces start to unravel when Bex gets her to his apartment and kisses her against her will. She's full of anger and self-doubt, and she starts to see the world in a different way. Suddenly her boyfriend's sexist jokes aren't funny, the school uniform policy that is much stricter for girls is glaringly unfair, and the list of "dead white guy" authors they have to read in AP English feels limited and narrow-minded. When she reports Bex, writes a feminist editorial about the minefield of being a girl, and starts a feminist book club, her friends think she's changed, but what if she's discovering who she really is?

Is it any good?

In this fast-paced, engaging story, a high-achieving teen girl starts to question herself and her world view when a teacher molests her. At the beginning of Rules for Being a Girl, we meet a Marin who laughs at sexist jokes and slut-shames other students. But when the school principal singles out a girl for humiliation in front of the school for dress code violations, Marin starts to understand the damage caused by the conflicting, judgmental messages girls receive from a young age. When she's bullied and doubted after reporting her teacher's assault, she feels it at a deeply personal level. Readers get a good glimpse at the ripple effect that assault has on the victims and why it is difficult for them to come forward. Marin's character growth is the best part of the story. Even though she has to deal with the emotional trauma of her teacher's assault, she stands up for herself and channels her emotions into self-education on feminism, writing editorials, and making new friends. Most of the other characters are one-dimensional, and the ending could be more satisfying, but Rules for Being a Girl is a good book for sparking conversations on important issues facing young women.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about reactions to reports of sexual assault. In Rules for Being a Girl, few people believe Marin when she tells the truth about her sexual assault because she clearly had a crush on the teacher. Why do you think people often don't believe women when they speak up about assault? 

  • Do you ever feel it's pointless to take problems to school administrators or others in positions of authority? Why? What other avenues do you have available to deal with serious issues?

  • Have you ever started a new activity that allowed you to make friends you might not have met otherwise? Did this expand your worldview at all?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories about strong girls and the need for consent

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