Take Three Girls is written by three great writers of young adult fiction Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood. Told from the perspective of three girls in year ten at school, each author taking on one of them, giving Ady, Clem and Kate even more distinct voices and personalities than they might have if it was written by one person.
From the start it is clear the book is taking on topical, serious issues for teenagers, with the PSST post of top ten hot girls with eating disorders and the note from the principal of the private all-girls school they attend talking about the grave concern they have about ‘the extent to which a seemingly non-stop stream of age-inappropriate material assails this generation in the digital era’.
The school responds by introducing a wellness program. There are exercises the teacher has given them, including quotes and points for reflection and discussion such as ‘our identity is developed through a combination of our personality, our beliefs and values, our cultural background, our opportunities and privilege’ that get them and the reader thinking and questioning. These are interspersed with journal entries from each of the girls, and chapters from each of them, sometimes giving different perspectives of the same events, which shows how they view themselves and each other from the beginning and through the book.
Clem and Kate board at the school, but Ady is a day student and ‘Queen Bitch, according to school folklore’. The boarders’ room-mates Jinx and Iris respectively are also secondary characters, and Iris is also Clem’s twin, a relationship that is problematic, challenging the stereotype of twin always being close.
The PSST blog made me wince at times it was so vile and vitriolic, but not unrealistically unfortunately. It reminded me of a recent scandal at a high-profile girls school that ended up on the front page of the local paper, but that was with year twelve students. That this was happening in year ten made it feel even worse. The girls, who all end up featuring on it, know the damage it does, even before they do. ‘Mean stuff spreads so fast. One click. Post. Send. Share. Online bullying = sometimes- suicides’.
The three girls are not friends at the start, but are put together as a group in the wellness class and forced to bond. ‘It reminds me of a kindergarten icebreaker, but at sixteen we’re frozen deeper than he knows’. They each have their own issues and after a while start to share with each other in a way that they can’t with their other friends – Clem’s swimming team, Kate’s room-mate and Ady’s popular group and boyfriend. They become new friends, and as one of the quote they are given points out ‘Your closest friends were once unknown to you’.
They are challenged to take the road less travelled, break out of their comfort zones and take time with people they wouldn’t have before. This proves to be initially challenging and then rewarding for these girls. Assumptions are challenged as they stop prejudging and start to view each other and others through a different lens – ‘the precision of naming takes away the uniqueness of seeing’. The fronts they put up to protect themselves are broken down when they feel comfortable and able to open up.
The portrayal of exclusive private schools that ‘never stop their competitive jostling’, is done with incision, and the teenage angst is palpable as they deal with school, the blog, family, burgeoning sexuality and changing friendships. It opens up discussions about patriarchy and sexism that is rife in the world even at their age. Their wellness teacher reminds them that ‘the standard you walk past is the one you accept’, a good point for young adults to reflect on.
This is one of the best young adult novels I have read in a while, and I highly recommend it for teenagers around the age of the characters and older.