- Girls & Women
- School & Education
There’s more than one F word…
For Cassandra Davis, the F-word is fraternity – specifically Delta Tau Chi. Accused of sexist behaviour, they have one year to clean up their act.
With one shot at a scholarship to attend the university of her dreams, Cassie pitches a research project – to pledge Delta Tau Chi and provide proof of their misogynistic behaviour. After all, they’re frat boys. Exposing them should be a piece of cake.
But the boys of Delta Tau Chi are nothing like she expected and soon, with her heart and future tangled in the web of her own making, Cassie realises that the F-word might not be as simple as she thought after all.
As a feminist myself I was excited to get stuck into Frat Girl so I could see how gender studies can be translated into a Young Adult novel. The book celebrates how feminism has taken more of a stance within pop culture and become more appealing to younger women. The narrative references “Beyoncé feminists” in a positive manner, suggesting Kiley Roache is hoping to harness that energy. In doing so, she provides a book that is accessible for teenage feminists wishing to learn more about the movement.
In the way that Frat Girl offers a good starting point for those new to feminism, Roache succeeds. There are extracts in the novel that explain a number of common feminist terms using grounded, relatable language without being bogged down by theory from scholars. For a young feminist who is trying to get to grips with a few key topics, this is an easy and effective way to start forming an opinion within the discourse.
Roache is a talented writer whose use of dialogue is believable and helps develop depth to her characters, making them likeable and three-dimensional. Personally, I sometimes find that YA fiction portrays relationships that feel forced, where the characters often seem a little “phoney”. However, Roache conveys a level of authenticity and delivers real-to-life figures that the readers can imagine meeting in their day-to-day lives.
Unfortunately, Frat Girl is problematic in some ways as well. Although Roache writes well-developed characters, there are only two significant supporting female characters in the novel and they largely flit in and out of Cassie’s story when she needs to learn something new and grow as a person. Alex, the best friend, frequently becomes Cassie’s wise, experienced confidant who is there to more or less keep the protagonist grounded and true to herself. While Jackie, the student Cassie befriends at college, appears at first to have some agency in her own life, but soon is more or less forgotten and henceforth defined in relation to the boy she begins dating.
Alex and Jackie never actually interact either; they are in the same room just the once (along with ‘a few girls from [Cassie’s] feminist studies class’, who are not named and never mentioned before or since), but they don’t talk, and Jackie is described as a unit with her boyfriend, ‘holding hands over the coffee table’. This is a missed opportunity on Roache’s part to have created a strong sisterhood between the three characters. Granted, Roache does celebrate strong, supportive female friendships during Cassie’s journal entry entitled ‘In defense of sororities’, but it seems a shame that she couldn’t put that into practice with her main female characters.
In addition to not having a stronger female support, by the end of the novel it feels like Roache is more preoccupied with protecting the individual frat boys’ reputations. Yes, it’s true that I did enjoy these characters; they show positive behaviour and there is definitely something to say about depicting men who act as allies to women. However, at the end of the day, when the novel follows the story of a young feminist woman it is a shame that the integrity of straight, white guys are prioritised and allows them to take up the space that should have been reserved for underrepresented figures.
Despite these shortcomings, Frat Girl does retain a feel-good atmosphere and Roache is skilled when writing entertaining and comic scenes. There are numerous moments in the book that had me smiling along and laughing at the absurdity of Cassie’s experiences while living with the frat boys. Yes, I wish the novel gave the overall impression that it supported the #MeToo campaign rather than seeming to advocate the #NotAllMen movement, but it is also true that I enjoyed reading the novel and felt a strong connection to the characters. Frat Girl has its limitations but any reader will be compelled to read on and find out whether Cassie manages to remain undercover and if she’ll have any regrets in doing so…
By Kim Ford for Love Books Group
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