Book Review | All Girls

I received this book earlier in the year and it’s been waiting patiently for me to get to it.

All Girls
Emily Layden

An all-girls boarding school in a hilly corner of Connecticut, Atwater is a haven for progressive thinking and feminist intellectuals. The students are smart, driven and worldly; they are also teenagers, learning to find their way. But when they arrive on campus for the start of the fall term, they’re confronted with startling news: an Atwater alumna has made a troubling allegation of sexual misconduct against an unidentified teacher. As the weeks wear on and the administration’s efforts to manage the ensuing crisis fall short, these extraordinary young women come to realise that the adults in their lives may not be the protectors they previously believed.

All Girls unfolds over the course of one tumultuous academic year and is told from the point of view of a small cast of diverse, interconnected characters as they navigate the social mores of prep school life and the broader, more universal challenges of growing up. The trials of adolescent girlhood are pitched against the backdrop of sexual assault, consent, anxiety and the ways that our culture looks to young women as trendsetters, but otherwise silences their voices and discounts their opinions. The story that emerges is a richly detailed, impeccably layered, and emotionally nuanced depiction of what it means to come of age in a female body today. 

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All Girls was definitely an unexpected read for me, I feel like I went in with an expectation of what this book would be and in fact, it was completely different in a very refreshing way. The story starts quite dramatically with the confrontation of an allegation of sexual misconduct but this is not really the main focus of the story, instead, the focus is on how the girls of Atwater confront the lack of discourse around healthy and unhealthy relationships.

The story is told through the perspectives of girls at different stages throughout the school, I really admired this aspect because it isn’t just showing us how one person relates to what has happened but it also isn’t just about how they react to the things that are happening around the subject of the allegation, it is an exploration of how each of these girls relates to the other girls and a look at how the choices they make influence their future. It highlighted the many experiences that young adult women can have and in a way that I think would resonate with women of all ages and has messages that remain relevant at any stage of life. I also quite liked that each of the girl’s sections were punctuated by correspondence from the faculty, giving us a snippet of the adult side of the story and showing how they are trying to keep control of the situation, making them appear like they are being proactive even when it doesn’t always seem like it is in the best interests of the girls.

I have to admit that whilst there were positives to the multiple POV there were some occasions where it did also work against itself, some of the voices weren’t as strong as the rest and seemed maybe a little irrelevant in the larger context of the book. I also found that with certain chapters I lost track of some of the girls that had already been mentioned and it took me a while to place them or I just had to read on knowing that I wouldn’t be able to, I think this was more to do with the volume of characters and the short space of time we have to get to know them but it was bothersome to know that I recognised a characters name but couldn’t place what relevance she had had in the story previously.

I would say that this story is more character-driven than plot driven although the reactions to the allegations, from the staff and the students, play out in a well-balanced way within the story, it really is the look into the girl’s experience of what is happening around them that is at the heart of this book. The writing style is clear and crisp, I found that it kept me immersed any time I picked up the book and allowed for the girl’s voices and personalities to be distinct. All Girls is an engaging read and handles tough subjects with amazing sensitivity, and themes that will resonate well after the last page has been turned.

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