When first year Malena Malavé Rosario is punished for not wearing a bra to school---an option a vicious sunburn rendered impossible---she's enraged, but feels helpless to protest. She's facing too much already: trying to build a new life with her mother, less than a month after Hurricane María ravaged her beloved island, and navigating a new school, all while worrying about her father, who's still in Puerto Rico, helping others rebuild. Besides, given the slights and stereotypes that she has already experienced, she's not sure anyone would listen to her.
Senior Ruby McAlister is an outspoken feminist who has always wanted to make a difference---she's just never quite been sure how. And after years of being outshone by her older sister Olive (who has reached step five of her perfectly planned-out life: change the world) and being pressured by her overenthusiastic parents, she's not sure that she has what it takes. But when she stumbles upon a freshman getting targeted and body-shamed by the school administration thanks to the school's sexist dress code, she's determined to get involved.
Malena is wary of Ruby's plan to protest the dress code at first---but she's also very, very tired of being seen as poor, helpless María Malena. And it's beginning to feel as though if she doesn't claim her voice now, it'll disappear forever. So she agrees.
Malena and Ruby quickly strike up a friendship, and both are determined to stop the sexism and body-shaming the dress code enables. But pushing for change is complicated---especially in a system where some girls are treated differently than others. As their fledgling high school movement rapidly gains momentum, media coverage, and vicious backlash, they must examine their personal biases, privilege, and fears if their protests are to truly fight for justice.
Few books present such a believable, empowering, multilayered tale of contemporary youth feminism, in all its messiness and complexity and passion and power, as Does My Body Offend You?, and it's a true joy to read a tightly-plotted, character-driven story that explores and celebrates it. It's refreshing to read a book about normal teens embracing feminism and fighting for change in their community, and even more so to read one which doesn't shy away from examining how race, economic status, and other factors influence the sexism they experience and fight---as well as how they themselves approach and understand it. Espousing support for intersectional feminism is one thing, but actually living it is often quite another, and Does My Body Offend You? does a truly excellent job of exploring how privilege infiltrates and influences work against misogyny, and promoting the importance of listening and allyship as an essential part of feminism. Malena and Ruby are both strong, compelling characters with distinct narrative voices and arcs, and I absolutely loved their friendship; the supporting cast is excellent as well (I want to be friends with so many of the characters!) The story is deftly woven and skillfully balanced between the two perspectives, making it a fast, highly engaging read. Ruby offhandedly complains about the irony of women policing other women's bodies as the beginning of the book---but it's far more complex than women simply enforcing sexism, a concept which the book explores beautifully without ever sounding preachy or contrived. Does My Body Offend You? delves into many key pieces of modern feminism in an insightful, accessible way, while never just feeling like a vehicle for explaining them---rather, it examines them through the lens how they intersect with the characters' lives. We need more books like it! An engrossing, nuanced, empowering story of activism, friendship, allyship, and finding your voice, I would highly recommend Does My Body Offend You? to readers ages twelve and up.