Tuesday, 8 May 2018

A Review of The Spinster Club series

The Spinster Club is a series by Holly Bourne. The three books are Am I Normal Yet?, How Hard Can Love Be? and What's a Girl Gotta Do?. There is also a sequel novella, And A Happy New Year? Three girls, Evie, Amber and Lottie start up a feminist group called The Spinster Club. Each book focuses on one of the girls, as their own story. Evie has recently been diagnosed with OCD and is trying to fit in, Amber goes to an American summer camp to reconnect with her mother and Lottie attempts to call out every instance of sexism she sees over the course of a month.

I was excited to read these, because I'd heard so much good about this series and had it recommended by many people, and I was excited by the feminism aspect. And because I did enjoy It Only Happens in the Movies, even though I did find some aspects of it problematic, but I didn't get too critical because it did make some important points.

I really liked Am I Normal Yet? - I thought the mental health aspect was very well done. Evie's struggles, plus relatable fears and insecurities, made her a great character. She's not always perfect and sometimes talks about her mental health issues in problematic terms. I also like how the book discusses that no-one is normal. One of their first club meetings have the girls talking about menstruation, and how we should be less ashamed of it. This is absolutely something I agree with, as we need to talk about things to understand why they are happening. Evie then talks about her period and getting bacterial vaginosis, and when have you ever heard that discussed in a YA book? This is what I needed to know about when my vagina started acting up. However, they spend a lot of it saying that periods are what links us as women, and that's just not the case. Not all women have periods and not everyone who has a period is a woman. Evie also seems to think that having your period means you can't make decisions as well, and that's exactly one of the stereotypes I'd like to see changed.

But I really did like the friendship between the three girls, and their drive to change things, even if all they can affect at this time is their own hometown and school

I didn't like How Hard Can Love Be? even half as much. While I like Amber in the other two books, here she's insufferable. And I get it, if someone could properly look into my thoughts I'm sure they wouldn't like me much either. Also, I'm not here for games of "Who-has-it-worse?" when it comes to social justice. The girls try to decide who is better for feminism, the US or the UK, but you can compare and contrast two countries without turning it into a competition. Why not do some research on the different laws of each nation? And you can't compare the US as a whole to the UK as there is so much individual variation between each state, and even within states in some places.

And my other big complaint with this book is the amount of slut-shaming. I was waiting for some point where Amber realises she judged Melody too harshly, like what (sort of?) happened with Jane in the last book. But Melody is such an over-the-top parody of a character that she's hard to take seriously. She could have made for a great point about how hard it is to act like the girl she thinks guys want her to be, while other women look down on her for it, even if she is comfortable in herself.

Oh, and there's this very odd part that fetishises Native Americans and discussions on Twilight and how creepy behaviour is no longer seen as creepy if it comes from someone who's hot. 1) yes it is 2) people have literally been complaining about Edward's controlling behaviour in Twilight since the book came out, don't tell me we don't complain if someone is hot. Oh, and if it's an American summer camp, why does it seem to run on the UK school timetable? Most would have started at the beginning of June, when schools break up. But this one seems to start when Amber gets there, and she's only there for six weeks, right? Which is in fact why summer camps are such a big thing out there, not because American parents don't want to look after their children as Amber assumes, but because most adults literally cannot get thirteen weeks off work. Oh, and can we talk about the sexism inherent in the evil stepmother character? In fact, none of the mothers in this series are particularly brilliant.

So, after How Hard Can Love Be? What's A Girl Gotta Do? seemed a lot better by comparison. There are still things that bothered me, however. Such as, if your feminist anti-capitalism statement makes things harder for minimum wage shop workers, a majority of whom are women, it's probably not either of those things. At least attach signs by string rather than gluing them on. Oh, and I would love to see my beautiful home city used for something other than it's university for a change. In Cambridge, the most common thing you'll see isn't students, it's large groups of tourists with cameras, closely followed by bicycles.

But this book does put some light on issues such as shaving and body hair removal, which I'm pretty close to just going "screw it" with, myself and the fact that we're not wearing make-up for men. It also shows the way in which women are often judged by the media and the way the public respond to that.

And I will end my review with my biggest point. These books focus primarily on white, straight feminist issues. I can understand Bourne not feeling like it was her story to tell, but some diversity in the minor characters and a discussion on intersectional feminism in their FemSoc meetings would have gone a long way to broach the topic.

So, do I recommend these books? Yes, but tentatively. They make a great introduction to feminism, but I would recommend that anyone who reads them starts to do their own research on the topic.


  1. Ohh this was a very interesting summary review of them all! I kind of want to read this series but it honestly hasn't grabbed me hugely!? And I get that it's disappointing it didn't address all the aspects it should've. I'm really keen on feministic books, but sounds like there are better ones out there?

    Still loved reading this!

    1. Thank you for your comment! I'm glad you loved my review. I've definitely seen the feminist aspect done better in books like Moxie, and in books that focus on intersectional social justice issues, such as The Hate U Give.

  2. Hmmm! Thanks for your thoughtful and detailed reviews. I think there are aspects of this series I might like, but more that would seriously irritate me. Giving The Spinster Club a miss!

    1. Thank you for your comment! I definitely think that's fair enough if you think there are aspects of this series that wouldn't appeal to you.

  3. Oh dear, i laughed so hard when i read the part about there being more tourists with cameras over students on bikes.

    And how disheartening to read your review! I just started following Holly Bourne over on Twitter and was really keen on this series but from the sounds of your review, it sounds like it isn't going to be for me.

    I cannot stand for slut shaming, no matter what and it definitely doesnt sound very feminist :( Thanks for bringing it up!

    1. Thank you for your comment! It might be worth seeing if you can borrow some copies, if you are curious. Remember, my review is just my opinion!